Who is Buried in the Mozart Family Grave?

The Cemetery of Saint Sebastian

The St. Sebastian Cemetery is one of the more interesting graveyards I know, and not just because of the Mozart family grave.

The cemetery is the last resting place of a number of Salzburg’s most prominent historical figures. Like the graveyard, several are shrouded in legend and mystery.

One of them is is Theoprastus Paracelsus, the 15th century physician and alchemist reputed to have been in league with the devil. I firmly believe Goethe’s modeled his Faust upon the mythos of his persona.

Another iconic figure laid to rest here is Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau whose vision created the Salzburg you see today in the old town across the river. His mausoleum stands in the center of the graveyard. Legend has it he is standing upright in his tomb, his plans for the city all around him.

The cemetery is laid out in an Italian style called Campo Santi, conceived by Wolf Dietrich and his architect, who was the first to be buried here.

St. Sebastian Cemetery in Salzburg, laid out in a style called Campo Santi.

St. Sebastian Cemetery in Salzburg, laid out in a style called Campo Santi.

Vaulted arcades flank the graveyard on all four sides and shelter it from the outside world. Their walls and floors are lined with crypts. On their walls are tombstones covered with old inscriptions and sometimes macabre grave icons. When you walk the arcades, you are walking over the bones of some of Salzburg’s most famous citizens.
The juxtaposition of the graveyard to its surroundings is fascinating, too, even if you have to imagine some of it. Just beyond one corner once stood the witches’ tower – the prison where men and women accused of witchcraft were held captive until they were hauled to the stake and burned.

Almost next to it, just over one of the walls of the graveyard, stands a convent that houses a small statue of the Christ Child, said to be endowed with miraculous powers of healing the sick. And outside one of the other walls, a monument testifies to the mass graves of the black plague.

Near the entrance is the Mozart family grave, another mystery of the graveyard. It prominently displays the name of Mozart on its headstone, but it’s not at all certain that anyone related to the composer is actually buried there, a fact rudely brought to light in 2006 as part of a forensic investigation.

The Mozart Family Grave

The Mozart family grave isn’t hard to find. Not far from the graveyard entrance from the church, about halfway to the mausoleum, a tall headstone marks the site.

Mozart Family Grave, second grave from left.

Mozart Family Grave, second grave from left.

It prominently bears the names of:

Constantia von Nissen – Widow of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (on the front)
Georg Nikolaus von Nissen – (her second husband – on the back).

Two smaller tablet stones stand in front of the headstone. The one on the right bears the names of:

Leopold Mozart – (Wolfgang’s father)
Euphrosina Pertl – (Wolfgangs maternal grandmother)

The inscriptions on the left one read:

Jeanette Berchthold von Sonnenburg – (Wolfgang’s niece)
Genoveva Weber – (Constanzes aunt).

Jeannette was the first daughter of Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl. She died at the young age of sixteen.

Mozart Family Grave - Leopold Mozart and other relatives of the composer were thought to be buried here. Image by Clayton Tang via Wikimedia Commons

Mozart Family Grave – Leopold Mozart and other relatives of the composer were thought to be buried here.
Image by Clayton Tang via Wikimedia Commons

In all, the gravestones list three biological relatives of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the gifted composer. Another occupant of the grave, Constanze , was married to him for nine years and bore him six children. She raised the surviving two with Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, her second husband, a Danish Diplomat, and buried beside her.

Every year, numerous visitors make their way to the grave, on a pilgrimage of Mozart sites, believing that this is the place where Leopold Mozart and other relatives of Salzburg’s most famous son are buried.

In 2004, a number of knowledgable people still thought so, too. The grave was key in their plans to solve a centuries old mystery surrounding a cranium in the possession of the International Mozart Foundation. The Foundation – Mozarteum for short – had every reason to believe they had the real skull of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in their safe-keeping, but they couldn’t be absolutely certain.

Then, as they prepared for the composers approaching 250th birthday, they wanted to make sure. They teamed up with an Austrian television station, enlisted the skills of several noted scientists, and opened the grave. The scientists obtained DNA from the skeletons of Mozart’s relatives, hoping to match it with DNA from the skull – and came up empty.


Next: The Mystery of Mozart’s skull.


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