The Charnel House in Tulln



The charnel house reflects the wealth of the town in the 13th c. It is considered one of the most significant structures of its kind in Europe. Given the artistic parallels, the master builders here were presumably also active in the Hungarian town of Jak. The structure is Late Romanesque. This highly developed style of architecture had a late golden age under the Babenberg dynasty in Austria at a time when Gothic was spreading throughout Western Europe. It was erected around 1240 probably by order of the last Babenberg ruler Duke Friederich II.

The upper story of the charnel house is actually a funeral chapel accessed over a perron and entered through the magnificent funnel-like Romanesque portal. The apse is oriented to the east but the portal is shifted slightly to the northeast in the direction of what is Wiener Strasse today. It was the east-west axis of the town already back then.

When the charnel was built, the Gothic high chancel of the parish church did not yet exist so there was an open view to the portal. The octagonal floor plan of the charnel is probably modeled on a sacred structure in Jerusalem.

The lower story of the charnel served until 1785 as an ossuary for the exhumed skeletons of the deceased from the cemetery that surrounded today’s parish church and covered approximately the same area as today’s paved square.

The interior of the charnel house is round in shape and coped over. Viewed from the altar, the frescos are arranged in a religiously meaningful way: On the right on the side of the good are the wise virgins from Jesus’s Parable of the Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13, one of the most popular parables in the Middle Ages. On the left on the side of the wicked are the foolish virgins being led to Hell by the Devil. The demons of hell are depicted opposite the altar, probably also human vices as counterparts of human virtues. Intemperance is clearly recognizable in the figure with the wine cask.

Public arrival is easily accessible by train or bus.

Location and how to get there