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St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in a place which was probably an important ancient burial site. It remained a significant burial place throughout its history. There used to be several cemeteries next to the church, but they were abandoned in the 18th century.
Stephansdom has huge catacombs beneath its floor and also hosts several crypts and tombs of the most important people of the Austrian history, including Habsburg emperors. Some other significant people, like Mozart, had funeral in the Cathedral, though they were buried elsewhere.
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, who was responsible for the origination of the Diocese of Vienna in 1469, has his tomb in the Apostles’ Choir in the southeast corner of the Cathedral. Works on this tomb started 25 years before the emperor’s death and were entirely completed after 45 years (20 years after his death). The amply decorated tomb shows Frederick III with his crown jewels and a total of 240 statues. Coats of arms of all places under the emperor’s reign are also represented. The author of the tomb is Niclaes Gerhaert van Leyden.
There is also the tomb of Prince Eugene of Savoy, one of the greatest generals in European history, leading the Habsburg armies in several wars including the War of the Spanish Succession against the French. His tomb is located in the Chapel of the Cross, which is unfortunately not accessible for visitors.
In 1735 Vienna suffered from an outbreak of bubonic plague. One of the measures resulting from it was closing down the eight cemeteries which were in the neighbourhood of the Stephansdom and also the charnel house, where stacked bones were stored. The bones from the graves were moved to the catacombs below the Cathedral, where many pits were dug for them.
The unpleasant side effect of this solution was the smell that found its way from the catacombs to the Cathedral. Several prisoners were sent to the catacombs to clean the area from the plague, break the skeletons and organize the individual bones in ordered rows with skulls on top. This work was never entirely finished and some sections of the catacombs still seem a bit less organized than the others.
Burials were taking place directly in the catacombs until 1783, when a new law prohibited most burials within the city. As a result, Mozart was buried in a common grave at the St. Marx cemetery outside the city and not in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, though he had funeral here in the Chapel of the Cross.
Remains of about 11,000 persons are buried in the catacombs. Today it is possible to take a guided tour in the catacombs. The tours are open daily all year round, from 10 am to 11:30 am in the morning (every day except Sundays and holidays) and from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm in the afternoon (every day). Tour starts every 15 to 30 minutes (based on demand) at the meeting point by the stairs to the catacombs and takes about 30 minutes. The tour costs EUR 4.50 for adults and EUR 1.50 for children up to 14 years.
There are three crypts at Stephansdom: the Bishops Crypt, the Provosts Crypt, and the Ducal Crypt. Cardinal Franz König, the Archbishop of Vienna from 1956 to 1985, was buried in the Bishops Crypt in 2004 as the most recent interment, after he died at age 98.
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