Vienna’s Saint Marx Cemetery In The Spring
As you pass through the gate of Vienna’s St. Marx Cemetery in the Third District in spring, it’s possible a peacock will greet you with a gravelly squawk from its perch on a lichen-encrusted tombstone near the entrance. The beauty of this most glorious of birds, along with the enveloping perfume and color of blossoming lilacs, softens somehow the annoyance of the roar coming from a nearby motorway.
Vienna’s St. Marx Cemetery
Each spring, for about two weeks between mid-April and early May, nature artfully arranges a profusion of white and lavender lilac blossoms around the elegant but weathered tombstones in St. Marx Cemetery. Complementing the lilacs are the stately columns of blooming red and white chestnut trees lining the main path. Together, they provide a most suitable setting for the abundance of stone angels adorning many of the old tombstones
Opened in 1784, St. Marx Cemetery is the only Biedermeier cemetery surviving in Vienna today, containing 6,000 to 7,000 graves. Its name, St. Marx, is another spelling for St. Mark, one of the four evangelists. St. Marx Cemetery was one of five cemeteries established outside the old city center by Emperor Josef II following his decree ordering the closure of all the cemeteries lying within the city walls, including the large cemetery (now Stephansplatz) that surrounded Vienna’s great St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
Today, St. Marx Cemetery is primarily known for being the final resting place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who was buried there on 6 December 1791. Mozart’s burial in a plain wooden coffin in an unmarked common grave amongst fifteen to twenty other coffins cost eight Gulden and 56 Kreuzer. The dramatic scene in the film Amadeus of Mozart’s shrouded body being dumped from a reusable coffin was probably a fiction. Most of Josef II’s funerary reforms, including his decree against the use of coffins to conserve wood, were rescinded within four months of being enacted in 1784.
Vienna’s St. Marx Cemetery Although the exact location of Mozart’s grave is no longer known, his skull is reputedly in the Mozarteum in Salzburg. It seems that Jacob Hyrtl, an engraver, acquired Mozart’s skull from a gravedigger named Radschopf. Jacob Hyrtl then passed the skull on to his brother Josef, a prominent anatomist who gave it to the Mozarteum. (An example of quirky Viennese humor suggests there were actually 12 or 13 Mozart skulls, but only three of them originals!)
In 1859, a monument to Mozart carved by the sculptor Hanns Gasser was set up in St. Marx Cemetery. This monument was transferred to the Central Cemetery on the 100th anniversary of Mozart’s death in 1891. An angel and broken column were taken from unused graves in St. Marx by a cemetery caretaker at the time to mark the site of the former monument to Mozart. Elements of this later memorial were incorporated into the design for the present Mozart memorial in St. Marx Cemetery by sculptor Florian Josephu-Drouot in 1950.
St. Marx and the other four cemeteries from this period were closed in 1874 when Vienna opened its massive Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery). Following St. Marx’s closure, the cemetery was more or less forgotten, and because it was forgotten, its Biedermeier character survived intact. The other four cemeteries weren’t so fortunate and were eventually turned into parks. Public interest in the St. Marx Cemetery was rekindled in the 1930s when it was restored. It was damaged during WWII and again restored. In recent years, tour buses are becoming a common sight outside the gate, particularly during the lilac season, as music enthusiasts from all over the world seek out this site to pay homage to one of the world’s greatest composers.
For cemetery buffs, a visit to St. Marx Cemetery between mid-April and early May to see its wonderful Biedermeier angels and tombstones surrounded by blossoming lilacs, flowering chestnut trees, and wandering peacocks, is an experience to be treasured.
*In April 2002, the author did not succeed in finding the peacocks. Hopefully, they are still there though.
Article Author: Billie Ann Lopez
Billie Ann Lopez was an American freelance writer, born and raised in Kansas. For many years she called Vienna, the city she loved, home. Billie Ann’s articles tell you about the legends, places in Austria not often on the tourist maps and subjects close to her heart. Informative, descriptive and interesting she acquainted you with her Austria.
Billie Ann Lopez passed away September 13th, 2003. She enriched our lives through her friendship, caring and writings. Billie Ann, you are greatly missed. Silvia McDonald