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The creepy catacombs of St. Stephen’s

Catherine Cavendish’s latest novel – Wrath of the Ancients – is largely set in Vienna, Austria’s imperial capital and surely one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. Its streets teem with culture and its proud residents are almost fiercely protective of their enigmatic, sometimes quirky, and endlessly fascinating home, where everyone from Strauss to Klimt and Freud lived and worked.

Many buildings date from hundreds of years ago. Some were devastated by Allied bombing towards the end of the Second World War and one which suffered especially badly was the now fully restored, magnificent Gothic edifice of St Stephen’s Cathedral (St. Stefansdom) in the heart of the city. It is the tallest building in the inner city and, by law, it must remain so, for nothing can be built which will obscure the view of the cathedral.

The creepy catacombs of St. Stephen'sNeedless to say, this beautiful place is a major tourist attraction and many thousands of visitors enjoy its architectural splendor every year. A unique view over the city may be obtained from climbing to the top of the tall towers, while, deep beneath street level, a series of crypts house an increasingly spooky collection of remains and are open for guided tours.

Visitors are lulled into a sense of false security by the first of these, which contain sarcophagi of bishops and other important religious figures. Nothing too creepy here. But when they reach the Ducal Crypt, things take on a more eerie tone. The guide will tell you what the urns you can see actually contain. The remains of Archduke Rudolf IV lie here (dating from 1365) but from the eighteenth century, the monarchs and their heirs were buried in the Kaisergruft of the Augustin Chapel not far away. However, they are not buried intact. In the urns of the Ducal Crypt, are the internal organs. As for their hearts, they rest in a third place: ‘the little heart crypt’ of the chapel of St Augustin.

As the original cathedral was built starting in the twelfth century and was originally surrounded by a cemetery, the tour of the catacombs leads under St Stephen’s Square into a dark and forbidding crypt where the bones of some 11,000 people lay. These were bodies removed from other cemeteries in Vienna at the time of the great outbreak of bubonic plague. The catacombs continued to be used for burials until 1783 when Emperor Josef II outlawed all burials within the city confines. Until then, whenever the caverns had become overcrowded with bodies, prisoners were sent in to perform the grisly task of stacking them to make room for more.

The creepy catacombs of St. Stephens

It is still possible to look down on the stacked bones and skulls–quite a sobering and spooky experience it is too. The whole atmosphere is heavy and dark and it takes little imagination to feel a chill down your spine or raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Needless to say, people have reported feeling presences of a spirit nature.

There are other legends associated with the cathedral and one involves Death himself. He is said to have challenged the tower warden – a rather cocky fellow called Franz – to a game of skittles. Franz prided himself on being an excellent player – always hitting all nine skittles with one throw. So successful was he that no one could beat him, so they didn’t want to play with him anymore. One night, he was, as usual, playing skittles by himself. A tall thin man with a grey cloak and hood, which covered his face, approached him out of the dark.

“Are you still playing at this hour?” he enquired. It was midnight.

Startled, Franz recovered himself quickly. “Why? Do you want to play with me? I always win, you know.”

The man replied, “So do I. I never lose.”

Franz hurled the skittle ball at the pins, blasting them all. “All nine! Now match that.” He set up the pins, ready for his companion to have a go, but he hid one of them under his cloak and, thinking the man hadn’t seen him, he threw one out of the window. Now his companion would not be able to match his score.

Or so he thought.

“Oh no, my friend. You do not win that way.”

The hooded man straightened, and grew taller and taller. He spread his cloak and Franz saw he was a skeleton. “I am Death,” he said. “I always win. I merely need to hit all eight – plus one.” He took aim and blasted all eight pins – and Franz, who fell down dead amongst the skittles.

To this day, Franz haunts the tower, whimpering and moaning as he searches endlessly for the ninth pin. Without it, he will never find salvation.

Wrath Of The Ancients

Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine CavendishEgypt, 1908

Eminent archaeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert sands.

Vienna, 1913

Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr. Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena: strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of hieroglyphics.

Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry. Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy.

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About the Author:

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle CurseSaving Grace Devine and many more. She lives with her long-suffering husband and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshiped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

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18 Comments

  1. I think I’ve been to St. Stephens. I need to ask my travel companions from my college years. I was in a study abroad program. I remember the tall towers, the photos of the city, and joining a group as they entered the catacombs. Excellent setting for a ghost story!

    Reply
  2. I love Vienna and have been there 3 times, I proudly say. I was there when I was 8 yrs old and we climbed the tower. I was terrified as we reached the top because I remember seeing the large bell and I could look down and totally freaked out. We got to the spot where we could look out to the city which my brother loved but I just had myself up against the wall. When it was time to leave I was crying and freaking out. My mom was trying to get me down but I wouldn’t budge until my brother told me to count the steps and he was so calm and held my hand. The top part with the open stairs and the bell is still vivid in my memory. I believe they were building the stairs and repairing things so it looked more open. When I got to the bottom I had counted all the stairs and remember to this day-343 steps! In 1993, my ex and I went to Vienna and we did the catacombs which I found exciting and creepy but I didn’t feel anything strange. I again went in 2009 with my current hubby and just enjoyed the cathedral. It is worth seeing and it is one of the best in Gothic architecture

    Reply
  3. I would love to be able to visit places like that! They send me to a bit of a melancholy head space, but I think that’s healthy every once in awhile. To think of all the history, all the stories never told… that alone gives me a chill! I always enjoy Catherine’s stories, I’ll have to add this one to my Wish List! 🙂

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  4. Thank you, Mary. You’re right. There are so many fascinating and creepy places to visit in Vienna and the Gothic cathedral is indeed a perfect setting

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  5. Well done for climbing all those stairs in the first place, Birgit! Thank you for sharing your memories.

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  6. That’s very kind of you, Nikki. Thank you. There are two more books in the series that started with Wrath of the Ancients and they will come out next year. Both are also set in Vienna so I look forward to entertaining you again. There’s a lot more to come from Emeryk Quintillus!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for being here, Catherine. You are always welcome. Good luck with the new release–can’t wait to read it!

      Reply
  7. Wow, that would be creepy to see all of those bones.
    Congratulations on your release, Catherine!

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  8. So eerie! I’m sure the whole place would produce some creepy and amazing B&W photos.

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  9. Looks like a delightfully creepy place to visit.

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  10. Interesting place and a lot of potential for spirits to roam around. Not sure why Franz had to hide one of the pins, if he always won anyway… He had no reason to cheat, in my opinion. Vienna seems like a fantastic and versatile setting for a book!

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  11. It is, Loni, thank you. Vienna is strewn with creepy, fascinating, quirky and unique locations. I’m still discovering new ones and I’ve lost count of how many times I have visited there.

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  12. Thanks, Liesbet. Vienna is a city you never get tired of. So much atmosphere

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  13. Now I not only want to read the book, but I want to go to Vienna!

    Reply
    • JH

      If you do, let me know. Catherine is a fabulous writer.

      Reply

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