Monday, March 31, 2014

St. Stephen's Cathedral - Vienna

St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria is the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. The current church was initiated in the mid-14th century where two prior churches had stood. In 1469 Emperor Frederick II got Pope Paul II to grant Vienna its own diocese with the bishop to be appointed by the emperor. St. Stephen was the cathedral church. In 1722 Pope Innocent XIII elevated Vienna to an Archbishopric. The south tower is the high point in Vienna and is referred to by the Viennese as "Steffi," a diminutive form of "Stephen." It has served as a watchtower and command post for the defense of Vienna for centuries, with an apartment for a watchman who manned the tower at night and rang the bells for fires until 1955. The north tower was supposed to mirror the south tower, but construction was stopped in 1511 and in 1578 a cap, nicknamed the "water tower top" was placed on it. It is only about half the height of the south tower. The main entrance had a mastodon thighbone hung above it for decades and became known as the "Giant's Door." The mastodon bone was discovered in 1443 while digging the foundation of the north tower. The two towers above the main entrance are known as the Roman Towers, because they were constructed using stones  from structures built by the Romans while they occupied the area. The roof  tiles on the south side form a mosaic of the double eagles that symbolize the empire ruled from Vienna by the Habsburg dynasty. On the north side the roof tiles have the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and the Republic of Austria. 
This picture of the north side of St. Stephen, from Wikipedia, gives a better view than I was able to get on our cold and rainy visit. However, when we visited, the work on the north tower was completed. 
This water color from 1847, by Jakob Alt, was also obtained from Wikipedia. 
This picture of the south side of St. Stephen was obtained from here. The double eagles representing the Habsburg Empire on the left-side roof are clearly visible. 
This picture, also from Wikipedia, gives a closer view of the south side and the double eagles. The south tower is just in the picture on the right side. 
My own poor picture of the double eagles. 
The south tower on the left showing a different angle of the south side.
The front entrance with the two Roman Towers above it.
A Wikipedia photo of the front Roman Towers.
Outside sculptures.

This woman has her hands clamped on the jaws of a lion or some similar type creature. 
An outside clock
Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453. Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II had his sights set next on the Kingdom of Hungary, starting with the border town of Belgrade (now in Serbia). So in 1456 a crusade against the Muslim invasions of Christian Europe was preached at St. Stephen by Hungarian general John Hunyadi, who had fought many times against the Ottoman Turks, and 70 year old St. John Capistrano, a Franciscan friar from the Italian town of Capestrano. John Hunyadi prepared the defenses of the Belgrade fortress and St. John, nicknamed the "Soldier Saint," helped lead the crusade. Ultimately, Hunyadi led a counter attack against the Ottomans, on July 22, 1456, compelling them to lift a siege of Belgrade and retreat. This delayed the expansion of the Ottoman Empire for more than 50 years and stabilized the southern frontier of the Kingdom of Hungary. July 22nd is now a national memorial day in Hungary and St. John is now the namesake for the Franciscan missions of San Juan Capistrano in Southern California and San Juan Capistrano in San Antonio, Texas. An 18th century statue on the outside of the cathedral now commemorates this event. It shows St. Francis, who had participated in the fifth crusade in 1219, trampling on a Turk.
Commemoration of the crusade preached at St. Stephen. St. Francis stands on a defeated Turk.
We saw St. Stephen on a cold and rainy day and our outside pictures were very poor. Plus, it was very difficult to get far enough away for panoramic shots because the nearby buildings are so close. Inside, the cathedral was very dark and bathed in colored cellophane, or some similar substance that was casting a multi-colored light on everything. Plus veils were covering many areas of the inside. So we did not see St. Stephen at its best and my feelings toward it were a literally colored by that. It was way down the scale in terms of my favorite churches we visited on our trip. I think if we caught it at a better time I would have come away with a much more favorable view.  
The inside of St. Stephen bathed in colored light. It was very dark and the colors obfuscated the views of the inner decorations. 
A closer view of the altar.
Christ on the cross above the altar.
Lit candles.
Inner decorations: this photo has had the color amped way down in order not to look like Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. 
A tryptich with color amped way down. 


  1. For me, the first impression on walking inside was that the colors came from light streaming through the stained glass windows. We had seen small patches of multi-colored lights like this in other churches. However, it quickly became apparent that the sun could not be streaming through every window at once, especially since the sun was nowhere to be seen. There were colored spotlights in the back lighting up the room. I wonder if those lights are used only for cloudy/rainy days, or if they are used all the time? It was fun in its own way.

  2. I think Judy is right-initially I thought the color was from stained glass, but I literally felt cheated when I realized it was cellophane. It seemed irreverent somehow. Not my favorite church, either.