A Mormon cemetery in Vienna

Austrians love death.

Rebecca and I just spent a few days back in Vienna. Before hopping on the train to the airport we spent a couple of hours in the vast Zentralfriedhof. And I mean vast. Row upon row of graves and crypts, all lorded over by a massive and beautiful Jugendstil church. Tourists come here to see the graves of the composers, but it’s just as interesting to wander around the graves of the ordinary people. Particularly moving is the Jewish section: observing the neglected graves of early 20th century Viennese Jewry (some of which as a Mormon missionary I helped restore) is a lesson in history.

This isn’t like an Anglo cemetery: “ordinary” people here often enjoy massive and elaborate graves and headstones, all bedecked with symbols of Austro-Catholic death-ology.

I say that Austrians love death. Of course, this isn’t strictly true, although their suicidal Autobahns sometimes suggest otherwise. What I mean is that Austrians unashamedly embrace their morbid fascination with death. Theirs is not a garish Latin death, but a darkly grand (Germanic) memorial to Hades. If you’ve seen the Hapsburg crypt in Vienna you will know what I mean.

April_2008_veilHow cool, then, that Austrian Mormonism has gotten in on the act.

One of the quirks of being a state-recognised church in Austria is that you are afforded certain privileges that are not enjoyed by other religions. (It also creates a legal entity known as the Kirchenvorstand which exists as a kind of para-authority beside the two Austrian stakes.) The Mormon church in Austria has been able to acquire its own section of the Zentralfriedhof (“Gruppe 57c”) as an exclusively Mormon cemetery. There will be room for 165 graves and 6 crypts.

In the middle of the cemetery will be a peculiarly Mormon statue. I don’t much like the execution, but the symbolism is splendid. Apparently, donations for the commission of the planned Denkmal are welcome. (I can’t imagine such a statue ever passing correlation, but do they even know, and do the Austrians care? Another benefit, perhaps, of the Austrian church’s para-authority? At the very least, I welcome such things as a development of that local autonomy some of us speak of in hushed tones.)

Any other cool stories of Mormon graveyards?


  1. Whoa! Is that really what the memorial statue will look like? I had to look at it closely to figure out what was going on but once I realized it I was surprised. I really do not think that the Church will let this one go forward. It’s not so much about correlation as it is about how secretive Mormons like to be about temples.

  2. It’s probably not what you are looking for but there are some really cool Mormon graveyards all around Utah and Idaho. Find your way into a seemingly innocuous small town graveyard and you might be surprised to see an obelisk (modest, gravestone sized) to a deceased Apostle (e.g. the grave of Charles C. Rich in Paris, Idaho). Spend some time in SLC’s City Cemetary and you will, of course, be confronted with hundreds of gravestones with uniquely Mormon attributes.

  3. JF,

    If you click and zoom, you’ll notice that nothing is being given away here. I happen to think it’s a lovely image — Christ welcoming us through the veil of death — if a little clunky.

    I don’t know anything about the current status of the statue, or the graveyard for that matter, but that this model was commissioned in the first place is suggestive of the kind of autonomy that the Austrian church thinks it enjoys. (Although I don’t know enough about this, actually.)

  4. Considering what a big deal resurrection of the body is with us, it has seemed a bit odd that we Mormons don’t give much attention to cemeteries. I’m glad for the Austrian saints. Will those 165 graves be the sort that are dug up in 30 years to make room for the next resident?

  5. JM,
    More to the point, who’s going to be bold enough to buy the prominent crypts in the centre?

  6. For German virgins, the quote on the socle is “I am the resurrection and the life…”

    The whole thing is a great Mormon Christology.

  7. Ronan, I agree that the symbolism and message of the statue is lovely and thoroughly Mormon. I am all for it! Let’s do more of this. We can have Austrian Mormonism, English Mormonism, Japanese Mormonism, Chilean Mormonism, etc. all focusing on the Gospel but each enjoying it in the cultural framework of their native lands.

  8. Kris had a great post some time ago on early Mormon grave symbology.

  9. Look at # 11 here. Also # 20.

  10. I found this image is a bit jarring at first as the scene depicted is one that I don’t think I have ever seen portrayed artistically before, but I love it. Perfect for a Mormon cemetery. Thanks for this post, Ronan.

  11. Not Mormon, but this is my favorite grave.

  12. Peter LLC says:

    Austrians unashamedly embrace their morbid fascination with death.

    Indeed. You’ll have to visit the Funeral Museum next time (though you’ll need a bit of luck since it’s by appointment only and then only between 12–3pm on weekdays–what can I say, it’s a monument to all things Austrian).

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    Very cool, Ronan!

  14. Do you know what the veil will be made of? It looks like fabric there.

  15. The Colfax chapel in North Carolina has a cemetary as part of the meetinghouse property.

  16. Randy B. says:

    Great stuff Ronan.

    This post actually reminded me of Brigham’s birth marker, which just cracks me up.


  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, Randy B., I had never seen that before! Priceless.

    If you go to Logan, you’ll see my birthmarker. It reads:

    Kevin Barney Born on this spot 1958. A man of much courage and a really big package.

  18. Brad Kramer Born on this spot 1979. A man of much courage and impressive endowment.

  19. fmhLisa Born on this spot ____. A woman. Accept it!

  20. Ugly Mahana says:

    Could someone please explain what the Kirchenvorstand is? Thanks.

  21. I want that statue on my grave when I die.

  22. Researcher says:

    20 – Mahana, As I understand it:

    Many countries do not have separation between church and state. Among these are Austria and neighboring Germany.

    In order to preach and publish and otherwise exist legally, a church has to gain legal status from the government.

    Evidently (according to Ronan) the church has this right in Austria. It also has this right in Germany. There it is called “Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts.” It means that the church is a recognized corporation and, among other things, that the missionaries have to carry a legal certificate kind of like a drivers license.

    A Kirchenvorstand (said approximately kir-shen-for-shtond) would be a church committee that has government status. It would have to exist separately from the normal church structure of stake or district presidencies. Someone correct me if this is not the case, but that is what a couple of minutes on the internet came up with.

  23. And my favorite (with apologies in advance):

    From Snopes – Hidden Message Headstone

  24. When I was a missionary in Vienna, there was no place I enjoyed visiting more on “P-Day” then the Zentralfriedhof.

    The rows and rows of mausoleums are impressive… but what astounded me the most was the “Jewish quarter”, which was virtually uncared-for ever since the Nazis took power.

    There’s many things to see in Vienna (du Stadt meiner Traeume) but nothing beats the Zentralfriedhof… which is the same size as the inner-city of Zurich, and twice as lively.

  25. Hi there,

    I’m Rene from Vienna. The famous Viennese cabaret artist Georg Kreißler, a Jew, wrote a song about Vienna and death, called “Der Tod, das muß ein Wiener sein” (Death must be a Viennese).

    Yes, Viennese (it’s not really an Austrian thing) are very much into death. They say that there are more people in Zentralfriedhof than in the rest of Vienna.

    Now, in 2006 we celebrated 50 years of acceptance by the state as a church in Austria. For this, Brother Max Nemec, then in the High Council, suggested to use our legal rights and get our one grave yard in the Zentralfriedhof. The High Council and the stake presidency took up the idea.

    I don’t know, if the Church actually bought the ground, it could also be that the Church just got it assigned to us because of the law (I’d rather think that this is the way it happened, since we still have to rent each single grave from the city of Vienna).

    Hein Lersch was assigned to design a monument in the center of the yard, and we were asked to donate for it. Our SP would never do this without having permission from Frankfurt (European center of the Church).

    OTOH, in our ward, we have continental Europe’s only pipe organ. Back in the days they built our ward house, brother Heinz Teply said we need a pipe organ. Frankfurt said, that we not even had one to play it. Heinz said, “Well, then I will take lessons. But we will have that organ.” And Frankfurt agreed.


  26. Thanks, Rene. An authentic Austrian voice!

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