St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Once in Vienna, of course, I wanted to walk around all the sights. But first of all I went to St. Stephen Cathedral – one of the most striking symbols of the city. The building is 136 meters high and has two architectural styles: late Romanesque and Gothic.
The cathedral, known to many as Stephansdom, is located on St. Stephen’s Square (Stephansplatz).
It was built in 1137-1141, but in its present appearance exists since 1511.
Interesting facts from history
- The church was rebuilt several times:
- In 1147, Margrave Leopold IV laid the church in the Romanesque style.
- At the beginning of the XIII century, the territory of the church was extended to the west. Since then, the western (“Romanesque”) wall of the cathedral with its portal and two towers, later rebuilt in Gothic style, has been preserved.
- In 1258 the church burned down, but a few years later it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style.
- In the first half of the 14th century, a three-nave Alberta choir was added to the church, which we can still see there today;
- After that, the architecture of the church began to take on Gothic features. The towers were repeatedly demolished and moved, but in 1511 the cathedral stopped being changed (interestingly, the towers were not completed). That is how it is seen today by the inhabitants of Vienna and visiting tourists today.
- For a long time the church was no more than a parish church, and only in 1469 it became a cathedral.
- The cathedral survived the bombing of World War II and even survived the first days of the Vienna Soviet offensive, but then it was looted and set on fire by looters. By the end of 1948, the cathedral was restored by a group of volunteers, but restoration work is still going on today.
- Under the cathedral there are catacombs – an underground cemetery from the time of Charles VI, who prohibited burying people in the old cemeteries in the city.
- In the bishop’s crypt in the cathedral are still buried the higher hierarchs. The last burial was in 2014.
And indeed, when I reached St. Stephen’s Square, I saw a cathedral dominated by Gothic style architecture: sharp towers pointing far into the sky, high narrow windows and massive doors are the first things that caught my eye.
On the roof you can notice the tiles, laid out in a bizarre pattern, and on one side of the coat of arms, which is the symbol of Austria and Vienna.
Getting ahead of myself, I will say that from Stephansplatz is not the best view of the panel. It is much better to admire it from one of the towers.
What to see at Stephansplatz
In front of the cathedral stand:
- The pulpit of St. John Capistranes, from which he called for a crusade against Turkey;
- the crucifix with the “toothache” (the name came about supposedly because of the facial expression on the face of the Savior, but to be honest, I myself never understood the reason for this “nickname”);
- two iron measures, which were the medieval standards of the Vienna;
- a sundial.
Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral
The cathedral is good not only on the outside, but also on the inside: it is a huge, magnificently furnished room! As in most Catholic cathedrals, the windows have stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible. Particularly rich patterns are placed above the altar. Only five stained glass windows of the 15th century were preserved. The rest were redecorated.
To really feel the beauty of the interiors, I recommend not rushing to other places of interest, but taking a quiet walk around the cathedral.
What is worth seeing
One of the shrines of the cathedral is the miraculous Pecs icon of Our Lady. You can find it in the southwestern part of the cathedral. It appeared here thanks to the Hungarian László Szingli. He commissioned it from the village of Pecs to commemorate his liberation from Turkish captivity, and then Emperor Leopold I took it to Vienna, leaving the villagers a copy.
It is believed that it has the power to heal any ailment if you ask her for it. There is also a legend that on September 11, 1697 the battle of Zenta near the Tisza River was fought. The Austrians, led by Prince Eugene of Savoy, were fighting the Turks. And tears flowed from Our Lady’s eyes for two weeks.
The Stefansdom is also famous for its three(!) magnificent organs. They were installed at different times, but all three are a kind of “replacement” for an instrument that once burned. The largest organ has 4 rows of keyboards and 10,000 pipes! At Mass, the middle organ, which has 55 rows of pipes and is next to the altar, is usually used.
The pulpit of the 15th century is truly fascinating. Marble toads and lizards sit on its railing. It is considered that these “beasts” are an allegory of good and evil, where the lizards are good and the toads are evil. The pulpit itself is adorned with high reliefs of the first teachers of the school that existed in this church: Augustine the Blessed, Ambrose of Mediolano, Jerome of Stridon, Gregory the Great. If you want to see who was the author of such skillful fine work, look under the staircase – there you will find a self-portrait by Nicolaus Gerhardt. It’s worth noting that the pulpit is made of solid stone.
I’m not a frequent visitor to places of worship, so I was struck by the burials inside and not outside the cathedral. Here rest the builder Rudolf IV, Frederick II, Prince Eugene of Savoy and a little less than a hundred members of the Habsburg dynasty. But most of the graves are symbolic, that is, we will only see tombstones in the cathedral (they are all different and look quite imposing), and the ashes are in the corridors under the cathedral.
What can we say about the catacombs themselves? I wasn’t able to go down there, although you can do that, the entrance is open to visitors. But I did learn that the cemetery is not under the whole church, but only under the eastern part of it, and then it takes over a small part of the houses adjacent to the cathedral on that side. It even made me feel uncomfortable to think that we were literally walking through a cemetery in the center of Vienna.
View from above
About the roof.
After it is good to go up to the towers of the temple, which have their own peculiarities. According to the established rules, the towers should be of equal size, but the first one was never completed, having stopped at 68 meters. The second tower rises to 136.5 meters into the sky – it is almost twice as high!
Both towers have a beautiful view of the city and the colorful panels on the roof of the cathedral. That’s where they need to be seen! Two amazing huge images with eagles – two coats of arms, and numbers – 1831 and 1950. I learned their meaning later from one of the church servants. On the mosaic they marked the date of its completion. So it turns out that one part of the roof was completed in 1831, and the other only by 1950.
The roofs of the cathedral have another less obvious, but essential feature for the preservation of the panels. It lies in the steep slope of the roof (80 degrees), so that raindrops, as well as the rare snow that sometimes falls in the city, do not linger on the roof, but immediately fall down.
But that’s not all! St. Stephen’s Cathedral still hosts services and of course has its own functioning bell tower, which is located in the north tower.
About the Bells
There are only 23 bells in the bell tower, but only 20 of them are in use. Each bell has its own role. The largest bell (second in Europe after the Cologne Cathedral) is the New Pummerin (weighing 21.4 tons).
It rings eleven times a year and only on major holidays: on Christmas night, on the day of the enthronement of the Pope and the Vienna Archbishop (and on the day of their death, it is possible to hear the longest ten-minute ringing), at Easter, etc. The eleven bells (35 to 57 kilograms) in the south tower are rung daily during services.
How to get there
Address: Stephansplatz, 3.
The best and easiest way to get there is to take the subway to Stephansplatz. The stop itself is about 100 meters from the cathedral.
Opening hours, tours and tickets
The cathedral is open every day:
- 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays;
- from 13.00 to 16.30 on weekends.
You can visit the Cathedral on your own or use the services of a guide or take an audio guide in different languages (Russian, English, German, Italian, French, etc.). Available in about 10 different languages). These services are paid separately.
Prices for admission tickets:
- visiting the catacombs from 2 to 5.5 euros (hereafter the price depends on the visitor: child, schoolboy or adult);
- Ascent to the Pummerin – 0,5 to 5,5 euros;
- The tour of the south tower from 1,5 to 2,5 euros.
Prices for guide services:
- Cathedral tour from 2 to 5 euros;
- Evening tours with a walk on the roof: 4 (for children), 10 (for adults) euros per ticket.
Since I came on days when there were no performances or concerts at the church, it cost me about 10 euros for all the tickets.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna: The Habsburg Catacombs and Crypt
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the main religious site in Vienna and has long been an undeniable symbol of the capital and Austria as a whole. The temple combines two architectural styles – Romanesque and Gothic – in its exterior and interior, making it one of the brightest achievements of medieval architecture. In addition to the forms and reliefs of the building itself, St. Stephen’s Cathedral attracts the tourist attention with its numerous valuable artifacts, among which are preserved both ancient church attributes and outstanding works of world art.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Austria is located in the Old Town on Stephansplatz, in the thickest of tourist activity. The sights, whose spire reaches 136 meters in height, are visible from most central points of the city. Inside, every visitor not only has the chance to appreciate the splendor of the decorations, but also to climb to the top of the observation deck and contemplate the charm of old Vienna from a bird’s eye view. But a quick glance at the architecture and decorations is not enough to grasp the full value of the cathedral: it is important to delve into its history and note the main events.
A brief history
The first mention of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna in documentary sources dates back to 1137: in them it appears as a Romanesque church. In the middle of the 12th century there were only four churches in Vienna, and only one of them accepted parishioners. The capital urgently needed a new monastery, so the authorities decided to erect a cathedral outside the city walls. The church was already consecrated in 1147, but it is believed to have been incompletely rebuilt by that time. At the beginning of the 13th century a large-scale expansion of the cathedral began: a part of the western wall, made in Romanesque style at that time, has survived to this day. In 1258, the church was damaged by a fire, apparently not very serious, but by 1263 it had been rebuilt and re-consecrated.
Presumably, in 1304, Duke Albert II managed to initiate the construction of the eastern part of the cathedral thanks to donations. The solemn opening of the famous Albert Choir took place in 1340. About a century later the South tower of the temple, which for a long time was considered the highest in Europe, was erected. But the North Tower, designed to be symmetrical with the South Tower, was never finished. In 1511 its construction was frozen because of the approaching Ottoman threat, so all efforts were directed at the fortification of the city walls. In 1711 the Pummerin bell, the heaviest in Austria, weighing more than 21 tons, was installed in the North Tower.
During World War II, the cathedral managed to survive without serious damage, but during the Soviet offensive in 1945, vandals set fire to the stores next to the temple. The flames spread to the church, resulting in the complete burning of its roof, the destruction of many valuable artifacts and works of art, and the fall of the bell from the North Tower. With the active financial support of the federal states, the structure was rebuilt in 7 years and was inaugurated in 1952, marked by the triumphant return of the newly cast bell.
The restoration of this cathedral in Austria continues to this day. The damage caused by the fire can clearly be seen today in its burned exterior walls. However, the reconstruction of the building is well underway, and the renovated organ, which was damaged in the fire, is due to return to the cathedral as early as this year. There are also plans to refurbish the north tower in the next few years.
Architecture and interior furnishings
Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, is unique in its architecture, displaying a harmonious combination of styles, much of which has been facilitated by its centuries of construction and expansion. The church, built of limestone, covers an area of over 4200 square meters. Two towers, the South Tower (Steffi) and the North Tower (Eagle Tower), adorn the exterior. The Steffi Tower is built in Gothic style and is 136.4 m high, which is the highest part of the whole structure. Its spire is crowned by a sphere with a two-headed eagle.
Originally medieval architects planned to build the northern tower by analogy with the southern one. But in view of the Ottoman invasion, it was never completed. The last stone was laid in the Eagle Tower in 1511, and then, having decided not to complete the construction, it was simply topped with a dome. Today this structure is a little over 68 m high, and its main decoration is a giant bell.
Of particular interest is the unusual roof of the temple, built at a steep angle (in some parts the slope reaches 80°). The roof stretches for 111 m, and its height is 38 m. The uniqueness of the roof lies in its bright geometric patterns, for the creation of which the architects used more than 230 thousand colored enamel tiles. On the southern side of the roof tiles are paved with a figure of a double-headed eagle – the symbol of the Habsburg Empire.
The front entrance to the church of St. Stephen in Vienna, called the Giant’s Portal, is decorated with busts of saints, geometric reliefs and animal figures. Its name comes from the huge bone found when the foundations of the North Tower were laid, which supposedly belonged to a dragon. In fact it was a mammoth bone, which did not prevent it from hanging over the main doors of the monastery for many years. Above the entrance are two Romanesque towers 65 meters high which, together with the Giant’s portal, are considered to be the oldest parts of the cathedral.
The inside of St Stephen’s is no less imposing than the outside. Upward facing arches divide the building into three sections with altars (18 in total) and pews for the congregation. The main altar, located in the choir, is made of black marble and decorated with biblical paintings. One of the main features of the cathedral is the abundance of sculptures and artistic paintings in the interior. The most valuable monument of the late Gothic style is the openwork pulpit, created in 1515, depicting the faces of the famous church teachers.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Austria is also famous for its artful stained-glass windows, which playfully shimmer in the sunlight. Most of the glass panels on display are just copies, while the original pieces are kept in the city’s museum. Nevertheless, five original 15th-century stained glass windows depicting stories from the Bible have been left in the cathedral. Speaking of the church’s decorations, it is impossible not to mention the three organs that appeared in the church in different periods. The largest of them has tens of thousands of pipes and is the largest organ in all Austria.
Until the mid-18th century St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Austria was surrounded by numerous cemeteries, which passed to the Austrians from the Romans. To be buried near the shrine was always considered an honor, but not only aristocrats were buried in the local graveyards, but also ordinary citizens. In 1735, the bubonic plague broke out in Vienna, and as a result, the cemeteries around the cathedral were closed, while the remains from the tombs were moved to the catacombs, which were under the temple. Until a law was passed in Vienna (1783) forbidding the burial of people in the city, all burials were organized in the cathedral’s underground. Today, there are more than 11 thousand remains.
The main church of Austria is also the final resting place of many bishops, dukes and emperors. This is where the Habsburg crypt is located, where the carved tombs contain the remains of 72 members of the dynasty. Also in the church is the tomb of Frederick III, which took almost 45 years to build: the coffin is made of red marble with 240 figures carved on it. In addition, the tomb of Eugene of Savoy, Europe’s greatest military commander, who saved the Habsburgs from the conquerors from France and the Ottoman Empire, is installed in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Nowadays anyone can visit the catacombs as part of a guided tour for an extra fee.
- Opening hours: Mon. – Sat – from 10:00 to 11:30 and from 1:30 to 4:30 pm. Sun – from 13:30 to 16:30.
- Cost of admission: 6 €, children’s ticket – 2,5 €.
- Duration: 30 minutes
Today, every visitor to Austria has the opportunity to enjoy breathtaking views of Vienna from the North or South Tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Both platforms offer unique panoramas of certain areas of the city. The observation platform at the southern end can be reached on foot by climbing 343 steps.
For those who are afraid of heights, as an alternative observation deck can act as the North Tower, where the famous bell is located. You can get to it with an elevator that will take you up to 50 m high.
- Opening hours: every day from 09:00 to 17:30
- Cost of admission: adults: 6 €, children: 2,5 €.
- Address and access: Stephansplatz 3, 1010 Vienna, Austria. The best way to reach the cathedral is by metro. A few steps from St. Stephen’s Church, the Stephansplatz station is reachable by line U1 and U3.
- Opening times: Mon. – Sat – from 09:00 to 11:30 and from 13:00 to 16:30. Fri – from 13:30 till 16:30.
- Cost of visiting: free of charge. Fee for a guided tour is paid on request. Price – 6 €, for children 2,5 €. Audioguide is available in 23 languages, including Russian.
It is also possible to buy an “All Inclusive” ticket which includes a guided tour of both observation decks, catacombs and the cathedral itself. The price of the pass for adults is 14.90 €, for children – 3.90 €. The price for the Vienna Pass is €9.90.
- The great composer of Austria, Wolfgang Mozart, was married in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna in 1782, but nine years later his funeral was also held here.
- Since St. Stephen’s Church is the symbol of Vienna and Austria, its image was chosen for Austrian coins in denominations of 10 cents.
- It is noteworthy that the Habsburg crypt in St. Stephen’s Church does not hold the bodies of members of the dynasty at all. The way of burial at the imperial family was very eccentric: after all, they buried themselves in parts. The bodies of the deceased had their internal organs removed and placed in special urns, which were then sent to the crypt of St. Stephen’s cathedral. The hearts of the Habsburgs (54 urns) were buried in the Church of Augustine in the Crypt of Hearts. The bodies themselves, without organs, were buried on the grounds of the Capuchinerkirche.
- In all, there are 23 bells in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Each of them performs a different function. The new Pummerin, cast in the post-war period, is the second largest in Europe, second only to the bell of the Cologne Cathedral.
- To fully experience the atmosphere of Vienna’s Gothic cathedral in Austria, we recommend attending a concert of organ music.
- Taking pictures in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna is not forbidden, but the exception is the catacombs where taking pictures is strictly forbidden.
- Despite the fact that the south tower is higher, many tourists assure that the best views are from the northern platform. The southern platform is accessed by a narrow spiral staircase with over 300 steps, which can be a real challenge for many. In addition, the view from the southern platform is only possible from the windows, for which there are long lines. The north platform is set up in an open space and the views are much better.
- It is advisable to look at the church not only during the day, but also in the evening, when the bright lights are on.
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the main sites in Vienna, so it is always full of tourists. If you would like to avoid the lines and crowds, it is best to arrive at the temple in time for the opening.
Author: Catherine Unal
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