A Visit to St. Mary’s Church in Hallstatt

Hallstatt is a small town in the Austrian state of Upper Austria, known for its rich history, culture, and natural beauty. One of the most remarkable attractions in Hallstatt is the Catholic parish church, also known as St. Mary’s Church, which stands on a steep cliff overlooking the lake. In this blog post, I will share some interesting facts and stories about this church, which is a must-see for anyone visiting Hallstatt.

The History of St. Mary’s Church

The history of St. Mary’s Church dates back to the 12th century, when a small Romanesque church was built on the site. The church was later expanded and renovated in the late Gothic style, and completed by 1505. The church has a two-nave structure, with a mighty tower that bears witness to its medieval origin. The church also has a beautiful winged altar, created by master craftsman Leonhard Astl, which depicts scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary. The altar is considered a masterpiece of Gothic art and a symbol of the miners’ faith.

The church has witnessed many turbulent events in the history of Hallstatt, such as the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, the Napoleonic occupation, and the World Wars. The church has also been the target of a notorious art theft, when in 1987, four Gothic paintings were stolen from the small altar of Mary by an Italian couple. The paintings were recovered in 2012, after a long and complex investigation.

The Ossuary and the Cemetery

One of the most fascinating features of St. Mary’s Church is the ossuary, or the bone house, which is located in the basement of the chapel of St. Michael. The ossuary contains over 600 painted skulls and bones, which belong to the former residents of Hallstatt. The tradition of preserving the bones in the ossuary dates back to the 18th century, when the cemetery space was limited and the graves had to be reused. The bones were exhumed after 10 to 15 years, bleached in the sun, and decorated with floral motifs and the names and dates of the deceased. The ossuary is a unique and solemn reminder of the mortality and the continuity of life.

The cemetery of St. Mary’s Church is also worth a visit, as it offers a stunning view of the lake and the mountains. The cemetery is located on a steep slope, and the graves are arranged in terraces. The graves are adorned with colorful flowers and candles, creating a peaceful and serene atmosphere. The cemetery is also the final resting place of some famous people, such as the painter Wilhelm Kienzl, the composer Franz von Suppé, and the explorer Heinrich Harrer.

How to Visit St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary’s Church is open to visitors daily from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The entrance fee is 2 euros for adults and 1 euro for children. The ossuary is open from May to October, from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The entrance fee is 1.5 euros for adults and 0.5 euros for children. The church also offers guided tours, which can be booked in advance through the Hallstatt Tourism Office.

St. Mary’s Church is a remarkable attraction that showcases the history, culture, and spirituality of Hallstatt. If you are planning to visit Hallstatt, make sure to include this church in your itinerary. You will not regret it!

Best places to visit in Hallstatt


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