St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral – Vienna, Austria

Situated in the medieval center of Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the soul of the city itself; it is no coincidence that urns containing the entrails of some of the powerful Habsburg family lie in a vault beneath its main altar. A church has stood on the site for more than 800 years, but all that remains of the original 13th-century Romanesque structure is the Giant’s Doorway and the Heathen Towers. The Gothic nave, choir, and side chapels are the result of a major rebuilding program in the 14th and 15th centuries. The lofty vaulted interior contains an impressive collection of works of art spanning several centuries.

RUDOLF THE FOUNDER

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Duke Rudolf IV of Austria

In 1359, Duke Rudolf IV of Austria, later known as Rudolf the Founder, laid the foundation stone for the Gothic enlargement of what was then a Romanesque church. Born in 1339, Rudolf became a duke in 1358 and campaigned tirelessly to have St. Stephen’s Church granted its independence from the bishop of Passau and elevated to the status of a cathedral. But it was not until 1469 that Vienna, under Frederick III, became a diocese in its own right. On Rudolf’s death in 1365, a monument to him was placed in front of the high altar. In 1945, it was moved to the Ladies’ Choir. Rudolf is buried in the ducal vault, next to his wife, Katharina,

 
 
 

CATACOMBS

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The extensive catacombs beneath the cathedral were excavated in around 1470 to relieve pressure on Vienna’s main cemetery.

For the next 300 years, the people of Vienna were interred in the catacombs and by the time Emperor Joseph II put a stop to the practice in 1783, around 10,000 of them had been laid to rest here At the heart of the complex is the Flabsburg Vault, built by Rudolf IV in 1363 This houses 15 sarcophagi belonging to the early Habsburgs and 56 urns, which contain the entralsof the later Habsburgs who, from 1633 onward, were buried in the imperial vault of the Capuchin Monastery Church. Vienna’s archbishops are interred beneath the Apostles’ Choir in the Episcopal vault of 1953.

ANTON PILGRAM

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One of the cathedral’s leading craftsmen was Anton Pilgram (c. 1460-1515), a master-builder from Brunn. His sandstone pulpit (1514-15) inside the nave contains portraits of the Four Fathers of the Church (theologians representing four physiognomic temperaments) and is considered a masterpiece of late-Gothic stone sculpture. Pilgram even included a portrait of himself as a “watcher at the window” beneath the pulpit steps. There is another portrait of Pilgram in the cathedral. Here, the builder and sculptor is shown peeping through a window into the church. Pilgram signed this work with the monogram “MAP 1513.”

Heathen Towers

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These towers, together with the massive Giant’s Doorway, are part of the Romanesque church and stand on the site of an earlier heathen shrine.

North Tower

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According to legend, the “Eagle” tower was never completed because its masterbuilder, Hans Puchsbaum, broke a pact he had made with the devil by pronouncing a holy name. The devil then caused him to fall to his death.

Portrait of Pilgram

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Master craftsman Anton Pilgram left a portrait of himself holding a square and compass vbelow the corbel of the original organ.

“Steffl” or Spire

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The 450-ft (137-m) high Gothic spire is a famous landmark. From the Sexton’s Lodge, it is possible to climb the stairs as far as a viewing platform.

Wieder Neustadter Altar

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Friedrich III commissioned this elaborate altarpiece at the head of the north nave in 1447. Painted panels open out to reveal an earlier carved interior of the life of Christ. This panel shows the Adoration of Magi (1420).

Tiled Roof

Almost a quarter of a million glazed tiles cover the roof; they were meticulously restored after the damage caused in the last days of World War II.

High Altar

Constructed from black marble between 1640 and 1660, this is adorned with an altarpiece by Tobias Pock depicting the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

Singer Gate

This was once the entrance for male visitors. A sculpted relief above the door details scenes from the life of St. Paul.

Symbolic Number “05”

The sign of the Austrian Resistance Movement was carved here in 1945.

ST. JOHANNES CAPISTRANO

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16th-century of St Johannes Capistrano

On the exterior wall of the choir is a pulpit built after the Christian victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. It was from here that the Italian Francisc an Johannes Capistrano (1386-1456) is said to have preached against the Turkish invasion while on a visit to Austria in 1451.

Capistrano had been appointed governor of Perugia, but was imprisoned while on a peace mission. After having a vision of St. Francis, he joined the Franciscans and became a priest in 1425. In 1454 he assembled troops for the Crusade against the Turks. This event is depleted in the statue above the pulpit showing Capistrano trampling on a Turkish invader. He was canonized In 1690.

TOOTHACHE FIGURE

According to a legend, the “Zahnwehherrgott,” a sculpture of a man in agony, punished those who ridiculed him by inflicting them with a toothache. Only when they atoned for their sins did the pain subside. The figure is located beneath the north tower.

KEY DATES

1137-47: The first Romanesque church is built
1300: Work begins on Gothic additions, including a choir.
1722: The church is elevated to cathedral status.
1945-60: The cathedral is damaged during World War II and reconstructed.
2001: The cathedral becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


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