Thursday, May 1, 2008

Food for Thought...and Worms

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, And the living takes it to heart.” –Ecclesiastes 7:2
Take any sort of graveyard: from the honeycomb tombs of The Horse and His Boy to the honeycomb-like trees of the Punta Arenas Cemetery on the straight of Magellan; from West Texas anomalous green plots to the Mausoleums of New Orleans—their purpose is to commemorate the dead but also to remind the living of the end that awaits. Sometimes, though, they become a fascination with the bizarre.
Vienna would make an interesting Cemetery trip. They have a number of famous graves, including Beethoven’s in the Zentralfriedhof, a memorial to Mozart at St. Mark’s Cemetery where his body was lost, and the Catacombs at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
In the catacombs, one wonders if the point has not been missed somewhere along the way. The first graves are almost normal—coffins at least, but they are placed on shelves behind bars. The normal graves consisted of vast rooms where wooden coffins were packed in from floor to ceiling, that is until the smell of all the rotting corpses in the pine boxes became so intense that Mass could no longer be held in the sanctuary above. Deeper in one comes across the mass graves and the “wictims” of the Black Plague, and ultimately the “bone houses” where bones were stacked like fire wood to make room for new corpses.
However, the pièce de résistance are the Habsburg graves, or rather the third of them that are located in the St. Stephen’s catacombs. For it is not a third of the dynasty that is buried here, but rather a third of each of the Habsburgs. Each member of the dynasty, having important ties to three churches in Vienna, has their heart buried at one church, their bodies at anther, and their guts preserved at St. Stephens in alcohol!

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