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Exploring a 300-Year-Old Church…and Graveyard

Photo by Blessing Kure (Edited on Canva)

It was a little past 7 pm when the summer sky came into view, and the sun began its sojourn to rest behind the magnificent Austrian Alps. I sat in the back pew, taking in the beautiful acoustics of the St. Oswald Catholic Church (In German, it is Katholische Pfarrkirche St. Oswald) and heard the accordion play for the very first time. Its melody reverberated/echoed through the space, filling my ears, mind and hall in its entirety, and I knew I had to come back and take an immersive tour of this ethereal space.

Located in Alpbach, Austria, this church came to life in 1720 and is a testament to Alpbach’s rich history and culture. Here’s the thing: my exploration began as a revelation. I initially visited the church for a concert but was so struck by its architectural beauty that I decided to delve deeper and share this magnificence with my audience.

And the cherry on top? The church is open 24/7, inviting visitors from all walks of life to experience its historical significance. An intriguing detail that caught my attention is the steeples, which are also about 300 years old. I learned that the existing church was built in 1720 in a stunning Baroque style, and the famed local artist family, Bletzacher, designed the altars. The organ is the artistic invention of Ferdinand Fuchs, and it first came to light in 1777. The preserved Rococo facade is a sight to behold.

 Walking through the church grounds, I stumbled upon a fascinating art installation and a digital campaign launched by an artist. Theresa Hattinger’s “The Common Separation” features seven signposts scattered around the town. The one at the church says “Believer or Skeptic,” obviously intended to stir conversation and possibly self-reflection.

 Most of the signs are in German, and because my grasp of the language is below amateurish, I found it hard to decode what they meant. Not to be deterred, I bravely and enthusiastically continued my adventure.

 I saw some signposts with a list of what I assumed were the founding fathers — assumed because my German is not much to go by. However, some online research proved my assumptions right. And oh, I had to make time for the tour during the day because you won’t catch me dead exploring a graveyard at night. I am such a scaredy cat, I agree!

No exploration of a historical church is complete without a visit to its graveyard. I ventured into the cemetery, acknowledging the unique serenity that comes with visiting such a place during the day. The radiant sun served as a stunning backdrop against the greenery and floral beauty of the yard.

To my surprise, the graveyard dates as far back as the church and is situated behind it. Imagine the depths of my culture shock when I learnt it is pretty standard practice with catholic churches in Europe. In contrast to the burial culture in Nigeria, the dead are buried on family property or in a public cemetery.

 I stopped by a few gravestones, including one dating back to 1909, and reflected on the stories these silent makers hold, whispering tales of the past. Having had a fill of the earthy, tranquil and history-rich graveyard, I stepped into the welcoming ambience of the church.

The Jaw-dropping Alpbach Saint St Oswald Parish Church is better experienced than imagined. But hopefully, you saw it through my eyes and words!

Did you enjoy reading this? Well there’s more where this came from, read more here!

Here are a few bonus travel tips if you want to make the most of your next trip! You’re welcome!

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