From Peter LLC. This is a follow-up to Ronan’s post here.
On September 19, 2009, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Austria celebrated the dedication of what I estimate to be an hectare-sized plot set apart for the Mormon deceased, located in Vienna’s massive Central Cemetery (aka Zentralfriedhof), one of Europe’s largest in terms of area and bodies buried. In a way, this small yet centrally-located plot represents a coming of age for the Church in Austria, an expression of the Church’s status as one of 15 state-sanctioned religions.
In order to better understand the significance of what the Austrian Saints celebrated last month, it’s helpful to understand a couple of issues relating to the Church’s status in Austria. First, church and state have been traditionally close throughout Austrian history; until the end of Austria-Hungary in 1918, for example, the emperor was personally involved in appointing each Roman Catholic bishop, and religious affairs were strictly governed by the Kultusministerium, or the ministry of religious affairs. To this day, the Kultusministerium lives on in spirit and function as the Kultusamt, or religious affairs office, of the Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture, and is responsible for the execution of regulations concerning public worship, which these days amounts to determining if religious groups qualify for either of two levels of official recognition and conducting public awareness campaigns on the dangers of cults.
The second issue, religious freedom, is related to the first in that non-Catholic religions faced official and private discrimination and even persecution until Joseph II issued the 1781 and 1782 Edicts of Tolerance and ushered in an age of enlightened absolutism in which one distinguished between public and private religious expression and let the latter be (mostly). This distinction remains in place to this day, with the modern Republic of Austria hardly interested in what adults of legal age do behind closed doors as long as no other laws are broken, but still keen to regulate public religion. At first, recognition was extended on an ad-hoc basis, but in 1874 the requirements for recognition were codified in the Recognition Act, though the provisions still left much room for discretion by the competent minister charged with determining if the teachings and manner of worship were in any way illegal or morally offensive and if the means to create and maintain at least one “religious community” were at hand.
A couple of world wars and governments later, the Church in Austria received its official recognition in September 1955. (I’m sure there’s an interesting story to be told here; I suspect linkages between Marshall Plan aid, a certain Secretary of Agriculture and Austrian willingness to make concessions in exchange for independence.) With official status came a number of rights and privileges. To name just a few, these include: state financed religious education (the Church here does not take advantage of the financed part, but you do get credit for seminary), a voice in public television program planning (see broadcast below), exemptions from the Alien Employment Act and Residence Act (visas for missionaries), and, not least, the possibility to erect and maintain a cemetery.
And so at long last the Austrian members did just that. The event was an ecumenical fest with Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and socialists (er, officials from the City of Vienna) on hand to unveil the sculpture by Heinrich Lersch marking the burial site and to celebrate tolerance, diversity and community, evidencing a growing if hard-fought acceptance of Mormons in the larger society. For the German speakers, a summary can be found here and a segment shown last week on Austria’s public broadcaster (think Austria’s version of the BBC; it’s a pretty big deal) here.
But of course the star of the show was Christ, both in spirit and in, well, bronze. Faithful readers will recall that Ronan’s post above depicted an early concept for the sculpture to adorn the Mormon cemetery consisting of four figures–a man and a woman on one side, Jesus and a child on the other, hands clasped through a veil. So what was unveiled at the dedication? Veil? No veil? And how does the sculpture fit into its physical surroundings?
Well, follow me on a virtual tour of the Zentralfriedhof and find out!
1) The main avenue of the Zentralfriedhof leading to the Church of Saint Charles Borromeo.
2) Passing the rich (chair Nr. 14 for you design freaks)…
3)…the famous (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, both Straußes, etc.)…
4)…the statesmen (federal presidents)…
5) …the nifty art nouveau Church of Saint Charles Borromeo…
6)…, hey, can’t just walk by without stopping to view the heavenly dome…
7)…and a slightly more robed Christus.
8. Back outside, we pass a section reserved for nuns…
9) …and lo, bronze figures come into view.
10) Hmm, no veil in sight.
11) What’s the deal with the granite pedestal–yin and yang? Wait a minute–I get it. Subtle. Nicely done.
12) Hands are unclasped, unlike the earlier concept.
13-17) Various perspectives.
Twelve graves are arranged around the statue; four of them already occupied with some well-known names in the Austrian church. As a result of the once far-flung monarchy many Viennese family names sound foreign, and the ones engraved on these headstones are no exception, all of them Slavic. While I was taking pictures, two ladies wandered by and came over to check out the burial site, wondering aloud what it could all mean. One of them, noting the names on the headstones asked, “So, is this place for foreigners or something?”
Fitting somehow. A month after celebrating a surge of probably unprecedented positive attention, Mormons are back to being perceived as outsiders in their own country, official recognition and a central location in the Zentralfriedhof notwithstanding. Oh well. There’s always the millennium.