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Hallstatt Beinhaus, an Austrian house of bones filled with hundreds of painted skulls.

2 min read

The town of Hallstatt it’s the typical Austrian town, located on a beautiful forested mountain, next to a beautiful blue lake, with nice houses dated back 19th-century. All nice, but the room filled with skulls it’s definitely creepy.

Behind the Hallstatt’s Catholic parish Church, near the 12th-century St.Micheal’s Chapel, in a small and lovely cared cemetery there is the Hallstatt Beinhaus (or Charnel House). A small chapel has been filled with over 1,200 skulls. Skull painting was carried out especially during the 19th century and belonged to a cultural area of the eastern Alpine region, like the Austrian Innviertel, Upper Austria, Salzburg and Tyrol. Hallstatt was built in such a lovely location, and for this reason, there are very small spaces for burial grounds. In the 1700s, the church began exhume corpses to make way for the new dead, and the corpses, which had been buried for only 10 to 15 years, were then stacked inside the charnel house. Unfair? Disrespectful for the memory of the dead? Actually no, because once the skeletons were exhumed and properly bleached in the sun, the family members put the bones next to their nearest relatives. Practically, Hallstat and all this story, have a charm even with a room full of skulls!

In 1720, began a tradition of painting the skulls with symbolic decorations, dates of birth and death so that the dead would be always remembered. Only sometimes, no markings were used to identify the deceased. Of the 1,200 skulls, some 610 of them were lovingly decorated with different symbols, for example laurels for valor, roses for love and many more. The ones from the 1700s are painted with dark garlands, while the ones from the 1800s on, have floral styles more brighter.

This practice continued until the 1960s, but there is a much more “young” skull in the Beinhaus. Beside the cross with a gold tooth there is the skull of a woman who died in 1983, and it’s here because her last request was to be put in the Beinhaus. Her skull was entered into the ossuary in 1995. And each year, visitors from all over the world come to admire this unusual collection of artistically painted skulls.

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