A Guide to St. Peter's Abbey and Cemetery, Salzburg
St. Peter's Abbey and Cemetery is the oldest monastery in the German-speaking world and truly a place where time seems to stand still. Although the abbey itself is stunning, the most notable part of the church is its cemetery.
In its early days, St. Peter's was known, the world over, for their monk lead writing classes which taught students expectational skills in literature, penmanship and printing. To this day, it still houses Austria's oldest library which contains manuscripts from as early as 734 AC.
This building has a simple Baroque styled exterior. Light cream coloured stucco is decorated with banana cream whipped windows and trim. The Abbey's pnion-domed roofs can easily be seen across the Salzburg skyline.
Inside the church, explosions of the Rococo period burst forth as soon as you walk in the doors. Swirling oceanic shapes curl on the ceiling, golden vines encrust walls. Frescos of various biblical scenes are painted along the nave making the whole room burst with life and colours.
Inside, Mozart himself premiered his famous orchestra Mass in C Minor along with his wife, who performed the vocals for the performance. No doubt it would have been THE place to be in Salzburg that evening.
The organ's swelling melodies still fill the church as the building is frequently used as a concert hall today. Standing in the middle of the nave, surrounded by all this artistic greatness, there is a sense of majesty you feel all around. I cannot describe how many little treasures there were squeezed into this small space. Everywhere you looked there seems to be something new to uncover.
Before heading into the cemetery, take a few minutes to explore the catacombs. To enter, you have to climb up the steep steps which are literally carved into the Mönchsberg mountain. The catacombs date back to 15 A.D. and were built by the early Christians. These mystical caves were also rudimentary shelters for the earliest settlers in Salzburg. Inside the catacombs, you'll find the small Gertrauden Chapel which dates back to 1178. Once you reach the top of the steps, you will enter the Maximus Chapel where there is a great view of the cemetery and the city below. These "chapels" are not more than little altars carved into the rocks. Miniature altarpieces sit atop the stone tables and ancient carvings dot the walls as you walk passed.
Next, head back out to visit the Cemetery. The Cemetery is the oldest known Christian Cemetery in Austria and houses some of the wealthiest and most notables family in Salzburg's history.
There are family crypts along the edges of the cemetery, each one protected by elegant wrought iron gates. Inside, little touches of the baroque architecture decorate the walls and floor of the crypts. This is where the aristocrats of Salzburg are buried. These were used as the inspiration for the cemetery scene in the Sound of Music when Maria and the Von Trapps hide from the Nazis.
These crypts are rented out, the more rent you pay, the more lovely the design of your crypt. Along with your monthly rent comes a florist who will creates perfectly manicured flower boxes in front of your loved one's tombs every month. This means that all the flowers in the cemetery are cohesive which give the entire place a garden-like appearance.
In the centre of the cemetery stands the quaint late Gothic St. Mary's Chapel. The interior of the Chapel is similar to the Abbey with its bright white walls and golden trims but on a minature scale.
The graves plotted throughout the cemetery have their fill of famous personalities from Salzburg including, artists, scholars and merchants as well as Mozart’s dear sister.
While a cemetery tour might seem a bit macabre to some, wandering this darling little corner of Salzburg is as historical as it is beautiful and is well worth checking out if you happen to be visiting Salzburg anytime soon.