The Painted Skulls of Hallstatt

June 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

HallstatterseeThe Austrian town of Hallstatt is beautiful. Slightly touristy, but still beautiful. It sits on the edge of the Hallstattersee, where pleasure cruisers entertain the holiday-makers who haven’t ridden the funicular up to the salt mines that pock-mark the looming mountains.

As evening falls the tourists leave, their coaches heading onwards to Salzburg or Vienna. A few of them, perhaps, will have walked to the edge of town, to the Chapel of St Michael and the small building that sits beside it with the word ‘beinhaus’ written in stark, black-letter text above the entrance.

I arrive in Hallstatt later than expected so have to rush along the single main street, against the flow of tourists heading back from the closing shops, to get to the church grounds before it is closed to visitors. The church itself is an angular building but I have time to do little more than glance up at its white-washed walls and black slate roof as I crunch along the gravel path to the beinhaus, the ossuary. The door is guarded by a stern-faced, middle-aged man who glares out from above an impressively Teutonic moustache. The clock hasn’t yet struck six so I chance my luck. “Fünf minuten, vielleicht?” I ask him. “Nur zwei,” he replies. It seems unwise to haggle further so I nod and duck into the small, stone building.

I’ve been to ossuaries before, many of them in many parts of the world. They all have their own impact; some stern and cold, simply collections of bones rendered meaningless by quantity, while others, like the Sedlec ossuary near Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic, have a humanity to them that is almost comforting. The ossuary of the Chapel of St Michael, small as it may be, is beyond any of this. I gasp as my eyes adjust to the candle-haunted gloom.

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A Visit to the Sime Gallery, Worplesdon

June 12, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’ve been a fan of Sidney Sime’s art for a long time, since having first seen his fantastical illustrations for Lord Dunsany’s ‘The Gods of Pegāna‘, but it wasn’t until I started research for my essay on three of Sime’s paintings, an article which was eventually published in Dead Reckonings 22, that I realised how hard it was to find any information on him beyond the scant biographical details on his Wikipedia page and the single easily-acquirable book about his life, Simon Heneage and Henry Ford’s ‘Sidney Sime, Master of the Mysterious‘.

What I did find, however, is that a small band of devotees keep Sime’s memory alive at the Sidney Sime Gallery in Worplesdon, Surrey. Worplesdon has a great connection to Sime – he lived there after buying the still-extant Crown Cottage in 1904 and, after his death in 1941, his remains were interred in the graveyard of Worplesdon’s St Mary’s church – so it is a more than fitting place for his memory to linger.

Still, Surrey is a long way from my own home in Edinburgh…

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