Therefore, to make room for newly deceased, the bodies of our long dead are exhumed and their skulls are stored in the Bone House.Their graves are then available for new burials.”Residents of Hallstatt offer that explanation with a straight face, and tourist guides repeat it unexamined. The truth is a little more complex, and as is often the case, more interesting.The crypt like atmosphere of the Karner, lit with candles and skulls stacked up on shelves, leaves visitors with a foreboding of their ultimate destiny and also a sense of wonder. ” The traditional explanation has been:“The graveyard is too small.It can hold hold only a limited number of graves, and until recently, the church didn’t allow cremation.Strikingly decorated skulls, among them two with snakes crawling out of their eye sockets, flank the cross.
Catholics and Protestants sit side by side, as they have done in real life. Although Mayors and Priests occupy prominent postions, as they did in their community, bankers and paupers, gravediggers and miners, all share a resting place in the Bone House. I also intend to dig deeper into the question: “why do the people of Hallstatt decorate and store the skulls of their dead in an ossuary?
Decorating the skulls was traditionally the job of the grave digger.
At the request of the family, he painted garlands of flowers and roses on their temples and crowns, if they belonged to a woman or girl.
The Bone House in Hallstatt is one of the last, and it has always contained one of the the most remarkable collections of painted skulls, anywhere.
The Bone House is located in a chapel in the basement the Church of Saint Michael.
This makes the skull collection an an ideal resource for genetic studies. The basement, where the Bonehouse is located, is partially hewn into bedrock.