A few steps behind the Catholic church in Hallstatt, Austria, stands the 12th-century Saint Michael Chapel (Michelskapelle). There is the famous Beinhaus with its approximately six hundred rows of rows of painted skulls.
It goes back to 1700, when the Hallstatt cemetery became too small to give room for each person to have their own grave. The towns people came to a solution, digging up the dead after 10 to 15 years and meticulously clean the scull and bones.The sculls were then painted with the name, the date of birth and death, a cross, flowers and leaves.
Some of them were painted at the end of the 18th century, some only in the 20th century. Its bloom had the skull painting however during the 19. Century. About six hundred skulls, neatly arranged in rows, are kept in the ossuary of Hallstatt.
If a grave had to be reused for a new funeral, the inclusion of the bones in an ossuary was considered a kind of second burial. With the painting and inscription the identity of the former family members was preserved.
In previous years some of the dead were still put to rest in a grave until land became scarce. These days most would be cremated
Most skulls in Hallstatt were painted between 1780 and 1900, and with a few exceptions, the style of painting is characteristic for a certain time. Skulls with wreaths are the oldest, narrow wreaths and a colored cross with border contour the youngest of its kind. A flower ornament on the forehead marks the next phase. Then green leaves follow at the temples – mostly oak, ivy or oleander, and in the middle of the forehead a black cross.
The different motifs are typical for certain periods. The latest paintings are characterized by thin ivy branches and a narrow cross. Some skulls were named only. Incidentally, only a few skulls were buried in the Ossuary in recent years.
Eventually more towns people decided to be cremated, because there were no funeral plots available. After all, Hallstatt is built on a mountain with little room.