This is part 2 of Keila’s guest post from last week! Enjoy!
While walking through the Ehrengräber something bright pink caught my attention in the sea of grey headstones. I walked through some hedges and came upon a much more contemporary section of grave art. I apologize I’m not familiar with most of the people, but it appears many of them were artists, actors, and musicians. Please enjoy:
The cemetery has between 20-25 burials daily and has plenty of room for new burials. The newer sections are of course not as ornately decorated as the old. Unfortunately, I did not make it to the Jewish cemetery sections which are further away from the church in the center. I hope to make it back to explore more of the cemetery in the future. In the meantime, here are some more of my favorites from this visit.
Okay, so remember when I mentioned Mozart a little earlier? He’s not actually buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery, but there is an honorary cenotaph there for him. He was one of the most influential composers in history and made a great impact in Viennese culture during his time and into modern times. He died young at the age of 35, leaving behind a widow and two young children. The cause of his death has been debated and ranges from a prolonged illness, a sudden illness, or a poisoning. The manner of his burial is also highly debated and this is where the story gets interesting. Previous versions of Mozart’s death stories account that he died a derelict pauper unable to find work as a musician due to the ongoing Turkish War and was buried in a common, unmarked pauper’s grave in St. Marx Cemetery. What is probably more true is that he was buried in the normal manner for his time which was to be buried in a shroud, rather than a coffin, in an unmarked or plainly marked grave. Because of this, it quickly became difficult to identify the exact location of his resting place. Even after extensive research, they have not been able to identify the location with any certainty. Because of this an honorary tomb was erected for him in the field where he was most likely buried. This tomb was moved to the Zentralfriedhof in 1891 on the 100th anniversary of his death. Another memorial was erected in St. Marx to commemorate his burial in that cemetery.
So let me tell you a little more about St. Marx and my visit there. The cemetery was closed for burials in 1874 and fell into disrepair. It began restoration and was open to the public for visiting in 1937. It is unclear how many burials there are in the cemetery due to the common graves, but it is considerably smaller than the Zentralfriedhof. You can get to it on the same trolley line as the Zentralfriedhof, but the entrance is not located directly on the line and is about a half mile walk from the trolley stop. The day I visited St. Marx was very different from the day I visited the central cemetery. It was grey, freezing, and flurries of snow were falling from the sky. It is apparently a very beautiful place to visit in the spring when hedges of lilac are in full bloom. Unfortunately, during my very frigid winter visit everything appeared dead and quite haunting, especially since there was no one else visiting the cemetery that day. This definitely resembled the morbid image of cemeteries which many people hold.
Upon entering the cemetery there is a map and signs that point you to the honorary marker for Mozart. It is located almost in the middle of the cemetery and it was very well kept and felt almost out of place in this cemetery as it was the only part that seemed managed at all. Walking through the cemetery was kind of heartbreaking actually. The city website giving details about the cemetery, which is also considered a park, states that clearing work is underway as well as a project to catalog the graves there. But as you can see from some of the photos below it is difficult to imagine trying to identify many of the marked graves here as many of the headstones have fallen into such a state of decay and disrepair. I still found a comforting beauty in the disarray though. Even as many of the headstones were worn and eroding, you could tell that the markers were crafted with care and precision, much like the ones in the Zentralfriedhof. Unfortunately, I did not get to explore the cemetery as much as I would have liked because it began to snow, and I could not stand the cold much longer (Florida girl in me). You can find some of my favorite photos below as well as some of the devastating state of the cemetery.
I think people underestimate how beautiful historical grave art can be and think of cemeteries as morbid places. There were so many amazing sculptures in these cemeteries, while many were expressions of grief, there were also many celebrating life, love, and joy. I think it’s important to remember that grave art is erected to remember those we’ve lost. Sometimes we express it in the unbearable grief their loss has brought upon us, and other times we remember how much their life meant to us and brought us happiness. Although I would have liked to have spent more time in both of these places, I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit two mesmerizing cemeteries in Vienna, one built with purpose and still in use today, and the other a reminder of how we should work to remember and preserve the memories of those who came before us.
Death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wikipedia.org, accessed February 28, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Wolfgang_Amadeus_Mozart
St. Marx Cemetery Park with Mozart’s grave, wein.gov, accessed February 28, 2017, https://www.wien.gv.at/english/environment/parks/sankt-marx.html.
Vienna Central Cemetery, friedhofwein.at, accessed February 27, 2017, https://www.friedhoefewien.at/eportal2/ep/channelView.do/pageTypeId/75473/channelId/-53514.