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|SARAH ISERMAN - STUDY ABROAD AUSTRIA|
An excerpt from Sarah's cultural comparison diary for her independent study course
Submitted to Ben McFry, assistant professor of German and English at Shorter
Cemeteries and the Burial Traditions
Since being in Austria, I have visited two very different cemeteries. The first was during a historic walking tour on Saturday, May 18. The cemetery is in the city of Salzburg, in the area known as the "old city." Our tour was in the morning, so it was probably about 11:00 when we went to this cemetery. Several customs were different, but the overall appeal did not include any drastically different customs compared to what Americans find to be typical.
The cemetery in Salzburg may seem typical to those who go through. I was fortunate to have a guide take me through and explain some background. In Austria land is very precious. As a result, land plots are not sold but they are rather leased. The family of the deceased must pay for the lease of the land and the right to put a tombstone there every ten or fifteen years. If the lease is not renewed, the tombstone is then removed and another body is buried in the same place with a new lease. Most graves were marked with wooden or iron crosses. The tombstones would also have a ³roof² over them in order to preserve the marker. In front of the post is what appears to be a small flower bed. (SEE PHOTO). Many planted flowers are places there to beautify the grave.
The following day we went to an area known as the Salzkammergut. A series of lakes in Austria have several small villages associated with them and are interesting to visit as tourist locations. One city in particular was fascinating because of their traditional burial customs.
In Hallstatt, the graves appear to be the same way. This cemetery is a bit larger it seems. However, the land is not enough to sustain all of the deaths in the village. The answer to this problem was to bury the bodies, and after some time the bones would be dug up. After treatment to remove all the decay, the skulls and large bones would be placed in a Charnel or "Bone House" (SEE PHOTO). The bones and skull would be bleached by the sun and moon. This practice has been done since the 12th Century, and the most recent addition was in 1999. The skulls would be displayed all around the small house. It was traditional to put flowers around the skulls, and after some time it became popular to have an artist paint on the skull. The skulls would be decorated with the name as well as one or more of several symbols. Some popular ones include: an oak leaf=glory; laurel= victory; ivy=life; and roses=love. The house contains 1200 skulls total, 610 of which are painted and arranged. There are four skulls which are placed on books at the front of the room, which were those which belonged to priests. This is no longer practiced because of the popularity and practicality of cremations.
The United States has a variety of ways of burials of its own. The customs are for the most part similar. Gravesites throughout the States are marked by stone structures which the dates of birth and death and sometimes a saying in remembrance of the person buried there. The plot is usually bought as a family and family members would be buried together.
The tombstones are carved and placed at the head of the grave. We do not have a problem with the shortage of land, if there is no more land in one graveyard, you start another one. Many people visit graves and place cut flowers there to decorate for their loved ones. Often times American flags are placed by graves as well; this is not an Austrian practice, to put the country flag by the grave.
Depending on the importance of a person, a grave is rather a tomb which contains someone of importance and is distinguished by a large marker. In coastal areas, including New Orleans, it is common to find above ground graves. The graves are tombs typically containing more than one body. The front of the small stone building contains the information that is usually put on the tombstone. This practice is a result of the problems these areas have had with flooding.
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