St. Stephen’s Cathedral: Catacombs and Steeples

First off, I’m happy to announce the winners to our European Postcard Giveaway
Thank you to everyone who entered it!  

*Warning: In this post I talk about exploring catacombs, 
so if you don’t like that stuff, you might want to skip this post.*
The second full day we were in Vienna, Austria, a group of us headed over to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. There is no way my pictures can capture the hugeness, magnificence and beauty of the place. I’ve read in history books about how devastating WW2 was, not only because of all the people that died, but also because of all the buildings that were destroyed. It was in Vienna that those feelings suddenly made sense. These marvelous works of art can’t be replaced. 

A model of St. Stephens Cathedral 
The first day we were at the Cathedral we went down into the catacombs. That was one of my favorite things I got to do in Austria, and well, maybe Europe as a whole. I could not believe it! To me, it was astounding, a journey of fourteen thousand stories. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the catacombs, so you’ll just have to imagine it. 
The first part of the catacombs was really old, from the 14th century, I think. That’s where they kept the coffins of the Habsburgs, the royal family. They kinda modernized that part of the catacombs though by plastering the walls, so it wasn’t nearly as interesting. Well, except for the room that was full of urns that the Habsburgs’ organs were sealed in. Plus, they buried important people from the Catholic church in that part, and they’re still doing it! There was one man (maybe a bishop?) who had died in 2011. That was a little bit strange to me. 
Then we journeyed to the ‘newer’ part of the catacombs which were from the 15th century, maybe? And that’s when I began really, really realizing how amazing it was that I got to see this little piece of the world. We traveled though dark tunnels with cool, musty air and the odd feeling of so many years of history right at our fingertips. 
I’m pretty sure at least some of the people had been buried in coffins, but by now the wood has long since decayed and all that’s left are jumbled piles of skeletons. We weren’t actually standing in the same room as the bones, it was more like we were in a passageway and we would look in the rooms at them. We were so close enough, though, that I could have easily reached out and touched them. I’m not being disrespectful, just so you know, I was seriously in awe that we got to view all these bones that had made up living, breathing, functioning humans who were now all in eternity. 

I couldn’t get over the fact that each one of these skulls used to have a brain that was active and working. Each one had been filled with dreams, with hopes, with joy and sorrow. The hands used to work, making a living, feeding their family, sewing, planting, building. The feet had probably walked in St. Stephen’s Cathedral at one time. They had probably traveled around in Vienna, walking on the same streets I walked on. Their voices used to echo in the same buildings that are standing in Austria to this day. They weren’t just a pile of bones to me, they were un-numbered stories that are forever forgotten.

 Then we got to one room that was empty. I didn’t think much about it until they told us that they’d cleared out the room to be used as a bomb shelter during WW2. And that’s when my mind went into overdrive. I wish I could have just sat in that room all day long. Closing my eyes, I imagined huddling there with a war ragging above me and skeletons staring in at me from the next room. That would be a creepy feeling.

Then we got to another room where the bones formed a solid, massive wall. They had run out of room in the catacombs and so they’d brought prisoners down to stack all the bones after the bodies decayed so they would have more room. They called it the firewood room, because the bones looked just like stacked firewood, but with skulls sticking out every so often. Again, my brain went into overdrive at that story.

Near the end of the catacombs, we came to a room that had what looked like a well in the middle of it. Looking down into the ‘well’ we saw thousands upon thousands of bones below us, as if they’d all just been tossed into the hole. “Those are the victims from a plague,” our tour guide told us. “They died so rapidly there wasn’t time for proper burials and thousands of bodies were thrown in there to clear the streets.” I’ve read about plagues in history books, but to see, to imagine what it was actually like, was astonishing. All these thousands of people had been real and live. They weren’t dusty characters in a history books, they had families, people who morned for them.
Part of the staircase going up to the top of the steeple. 

At last, they had to stop burying people in the catacombs because the stench got to be so bad from the decaying bodies that people couldn’t even go to St. Stephens Cathedral any longer. All together there were around 14,000 people buried in the catacombs. 14,000 stories to imagine. 14,000 lives to remember. I’m so very glad I got to go down there and if you’re ever in Vienna, you should totally go!

 The next day a group of us headed back to the Cathedral to climb the steeple. We climbed up about 350 winding, narrow steps. I could have easily touched both walls at once, and there was only one set of steps to go up and down, so we were constantly having to move over to let other people pass.

We were all dizzy and out of breath by the time we arrived at the top, but it was worth it. You know what it’s like when you feel like you’re taking tons of pictures but then when you look though them later you don’t have hardly any? Well, that’s what happened with me at the top. 
The door at the top of the staircase.

Let me just say it again, these pictures don’t do it justice. The steeple was high. The view was phenomenal and the overall experience was pretty great. Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I go into the catacombs again? By all means!

What about y’all? Have you ever been in catacombs before? Is that something you’d be interested in doing? What about climbing to the top of the steeple? 
Oh yes, and don’t forget that today is the second to last day to enter the giveaway

8 thoughts on “St. Stephen’s Cathedral: Catacombs and Steeples

  1. David Mabe says:

    I've been to the top of the steeple of the St Mark's Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. Though, I'm sure that was nowhere near as impressive as this. I imagine you were quite winded after that climb. 🙂 It sounds like an amazing experience. I imagine the catacombs were a totally amazing experience. I've wondered what the acoustics would be like down there. That may sound weird to some, but being a musicians, I relate everything to how it would affect music. I wish you could have taken pictures, but it's not worth being barred over. 🙂 Have a great day!!!


  2. Anonymous says:

    This pictures are really impressive! The whole post was super interesting. Haven't tired of reading about your trip – it sounds like it was AWESOME! 🙂



  3. Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagination says:

    I would love to climb all the way to the top of a steeple. Even though I'm really afraid of heights, I think the breathtaking view from the top would be well worth it.The catacombs might be interesting to go to because as you said in your posts the visitors can get so close to a significant part of history. At the same time, I don't know that I would want to be looking at massive piles of the bones of dead humans.


  4. Aidyl Ewoh says:

    It was kinda weird, but way worth it! And wow, I like the name of your blog, and you're blog is pretty cool. I've just had time to glance at it, but it looks really interesting! =)


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