Sunday, July 8, 2012

VIENNA, Part 2: From Romanesque/Gothic to Baroque

We visited two cathedrals in Vienna that provided a nice contrast: one Gothic and one Baroque.

The Gothic Cathedral, St. Stephen's, was partially constructed in the Romanesque period, but then was finished during the Gothic period. The front has the plainer, blockier, medieval castle-like appearance of a Romanesque church.
The steeple, which was completed in 1433, looks much more Gothic.  At 445 feet, this steeple makes St. Stephen's the tallest church in Austria and the 13th tallest in Europe.

The side view also shows off its Gothic-ness. (Is that a word?)
The church is known for its unique roof, which is made up of 230,000 glazed tiles.
The Viennese and Austrian crests

One of the very distinctive things about this church is its Mozart connection. It is where Mozart married Constanze Weber in 1782 and where two of their two sons were blessed.  In addition, Mozart was the music director here shortly before his death, and his funeral was also held here.

Photo from this webpage
Another good story is that St. Stephen's was actually slated to be destroyed by retreating German forces. The city commandant gave the order to "fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and ashes."  The German captain refused.  Unfortunately, not long after that, sparks from fires on neighboring buildings lit a fire on St. Stephen's roof, causing it to collapse.  The very next day, a 22-pound bomb shattered the floor of the church.  Some of the art and artifacts were destroyed, but the building was, for the most part, still intact.

We spent some time outside taking pictures, and then we had an unexpected delay when an elderly Austrian gentleman noticed us admiring his church and stepped up to tell us more about it.  By the time he was done, we not only knew that he was seventy-nine years old and had spent most his life in Vienna, but we knew all about every place he'd ever visited on earth.  We decided he was either a) lonely or b) trying to practice his English, or both.

I did learn one thing about my sister Chris during the conversation.  She has a wonderful way of either being or seeming to be genuinely interested in whatever someone tells her.  I noticed it several times on the trip. (Probably part of her secret agent training--see prior post.)  She makes whoever is talking to her feel important.  It is a real gift.

When we finally got in and took our first look at the interior, we gasped.
At first we thought this riotous play of light was from sunlight streaming through simple stained glass windows.  Then we remembered that it was gray and cloudy outside.  As we looked around, we realized that there were colored spotlights shining from the rear of the nave.  Ack!

Looking more closely at the windows themselves, we saw that rather than stained glass, they were really just ordinary clear glass covered by colored plastic.  I assume the windows were blown out during the war, and these are the modern replacements. The lighting did make for some interesting effects, but I'll take natural lighting any day:
The lighting was a bit less psychedelic in the transepts:
I'm not sure what Mozart would have thought of this evolution.  Who knows? Maybe he would have liked it.

In contrast, St. Charles's Church, known in Vienna as Karlskirche, is one of the world's greatest Baroque churches. Commissioned by Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, the construction was begun in 1716 and was basically completed, at least the main structure, in 1737, which is lightning speed for a church of this size! The architect was J. B. Fischer, the same man who designed the Schonbrunn Palace in my previous post.

Its two magnificent carved columns out front, inspired by Rome's Trajan Column,  are almost as tall as the dome, which rises 236 feet.  Inside the church was an excellent to-scale model that shows the immensity of the elongated dome.

The interior was light, airy, and lavish, as Baroque churches always are.  I loved it.

What was especially memorable about this church, however, was work going on to restore the cupola.  As part of that, there was an elevator that carried visitors almost all the way up, then several sets of what seemed to be somewhat unstable stairs to the very top, almost within touching distance of the dove that is customarily at the apex of such domes. The exterior height of the dome is about 230 feet, so the interior is somewhat less than that, but still, that's about 25 stories up.
Looking up from the bottom

Looking down from the top.  The wood floor in the picture is the landing for the top of the elevator. The church floor is about 200 feet below that.
It was wonderful to get to see the dome paintings close up.  The artists have to employ a lot of distortion to make the figures appear "normal" from below, and so that was interesting.  Even more interesting, however, were the tiny details that could never be seen from the floor, especially in the 1700s when this was built.  Imagine what these look like from a distance of 200 feet or more:


View of Vienna from an upper window

The windowsill of that window, full of coins and bills--a more sacred wishing well, I guess!



  1. The trip up into the dome was one of the more fun things we did on the trip. Nice post to contrast the two churches.

  2. Thanks for saying such nice things about me. Is this enough to redeem me from that bumbershoot incident?

    Being able to climb to the ceiling of St. Charles was a real standout moment in our cathedral adventures. It was a beautiful church.

    1. I'd already forgotten my new vocabulary word: bumbershoot. Awesome. And Chris, you were redeemed ten times over for just putting up with us. However, I wouldn't go back to Vienna if I were you.

  3. I love these amazing tourist treasures that happen and aren't in any guidebook--like being able to take an elevator to the top of the dome! You are right--those are stunning pictures in the top of that dome. I'm sure we went there too but danged if I can remember it.