Monday, July 7, 2014

Vienna - St Stephen Cathedral

Date: 12th April 2014

Allah has said in "Surah 29 (chapter) verses 20, "Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation: for Allah has power over all things". Inspired with Allah's word in his last Holy Book of 5, Al-Quran, I have always observant of the house of worship, i.e. churches, temples, mosque whenever I travel abroad. I will step inside into any of House of Allah whenever I visited them. It was really crowded inside and outside of St Stephen's cathedral on that Saturday noon. I somehow managed to snap few photos with my IPhone inside the church though it was forbidden by the cathedral administration for any tourist to bring in their camera. It is an amazing church, I was captured by its beauty and I hope you guys would agree with me from the photos and the history of how the cathedral was built that I shared from the Wikipedia.

St. Stephen's Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna. The cathedral, built in Romanesque and Gothic, seated in the Stephansplatz. The idea and the construction was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV in 13th century. It stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. Being the most important religious building in Austria's capital, St. Stephen's Cathedral has borne witness too many important events in the nation's history and has, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city's most recognizable symbols.

Vienna had become an important centre of German civilization in Eastern Europe by the middle of the 12th century. In 1137, Bishop of Passau Reginmar and Margrave Leopold IV signed the Treaty of Mautern, which referred Vienna as a city for the first time and transferred the St. Peter's Church to the Diocese of Passau. Under the treaty, Margrave Leopold IV also received from the bishop extended stretches of land beyond the city walls, with the notable exception of the territory allocated for the new parish church, which would eventually become St. Stephen's Cathedral. Although previously believed to have been built in an open field outside the city walls, the new parish church was likely built on an ancient cemetery dating back to Ancient Roman times. It was an evident found from excavations carried out for a heating system in year 2000 which revealed graves of 2.5 metres below the surface, said to be dated in the 4th century.

The church was solemnly dedicated in 1147 to Saint Stephen in the presence of Conrad III of Germany, Bishop Otto of Freising, and other German nobles who were about to embark on the Second Crusade. Although the first structure was completed in 1160, major reconstruction and expansion lasted until 1511. Repairs and restoration projects continue till present day. From 1230 to 1245, the initial Romanesque structure was extended westward where both west wall and Romanesque towers still exist. In 1258, a great fire destroyed much of the original building, and it was constructed over the ruins of the old church and consecrated 5 years later.

In 1304, King Albert I ordered a Gothic three-nave choir to be constructed east of the church, wide enough to meet the tips of the old transepts, which was consecrated in 1340, i.e. on the 77th anniversary of the first consecration. The middle nave is largely dedicated to St. Stephen and All Saints, while the north and south nave, are dedicated to St. Mary and the Apostles respectively. In 1359, Rudolf IV laid in the vicinity of the present south tower the cornerstone for a westward Gothic extension of the Albertine choir. This expansion would eventually encapsulate the entirety of the old church, and in 1430, the edifice of the old church was removed from within as work progressed on the new cathedral. The south tower was completed in 1433, and the vaulting of the nave begun in 1446 and was complete in 1474. 

Take note of the roof beautiful pattern, symbol of the cathedral

In 1469, Emperor Frederick III prevailed upon Pope Paul II to grant Vienna its own bishop, to be appointed by the emperor. Despite long-standing resistance by the Bishops of Passau, who did not wish to lose control of the area, the Diocese of Vienna was canonically established on 18 January 1469, with St. Stephen's Cathedral as its mother church. In 1722 during the reign of Karl VI, the see (diocese) was elevated to an archbishopric by Pope Innocent XIII. The politics inside the House of God was what I learned from the story lines in Ken Follet's novel, Pillars of Earth.

During World War II, St. Stephen's Cathedral was saved from intentional destruction at the hands of retreating German forces when Captain Gerhard Klinkicht disregarded orders from the city commandant, Josef Dietrich, to "fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and ashes". On 12 April 1945, however, fires from nearby shops started by civilian looters as Russian troops entered the city were carried to the cathedral by wind, severely damaging the roof and causing it to collapse. Fortunately, protective brick shells built around the pulpit, Frederick III's tomb, and other treasures, minimized damage to the most valuable artworks. The beautifully carved 1487 Rollinger choir stalls, however, could not be saved. Rebuilding began immediately, with a limited reopening on 12 December 1948 and a full reopening on 23 April 1952.

Built of limestone, the cathedral is 107 metres long, 40 metres wide, and 136 metres tall at its highest point. Over the centuries, soot and other forms of air pollution accumulating on the church have given it a black colour, but recent restoration projects have again returned some portions of the building to its original white. Standing at 136 metres tall, St. Stephen's Cathedral's massive south tower is its highest point and a dominant feature of the Vienna skyline. Its construction lasted 65 years, from 1368 to 1433. During the Siege of Vienna in 1529 and again during the Battle of Vienna in 1683, it served as the main observation and command post for the defence of the walled city, and it even contains an apartment for the watchmen who, until 1955, manned the tower at night and rang the bells if a fire was spotted in the city.

The main entrance to the church is named the Giant's Door, or Riesentor. The tympanum above the Giant's Door depicts Christ Pantocrator flanked by two winged angels, while on the left and right are the two Roman Towers, or Heidenturme, that each stand at approximately 65 metres tall. The Roman Towers, together with the Giant's Door, are the oldest parts of the church.

The glory of St. Stephen's Cathedral is its ornately patterned, richly coloured roof of 111 metres long, and covered with 230,000 glazed tiles. Above the choir on the south side of the building the tiles form a mosaic of the double-headed eagle that is symbolic of the empire ruled from Vienna by the Habsburg dynasty. On the north side the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria are depicted.

The black cathedral somehow looks a bit scary though beautiful. It was like seeing a dark ages. I personally did not feel the warmth and the peace like the way I felt the presence of God, in his ubiquitous unique way whenever I entered His house. Maybe it's because the cathedral was built to show off some human powers not the Glory of our monotheist God. I'm merely expressing my view over this gigantic cathedral. My apology to speak out this way, Viennese.

Main source of reference: Wikipedia

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