Churches in the snow

December 1, 2010

Those of you who follow Ysolda’s or Kate Davies’ blogs, or indeed those of you who follow the news, will have realized that large parts of Europe have been drowning in snow for a few days now. After a first half-hearted attempt at snow on Sunday, today even Vienna’s local weather-gods have finally joined in and started pouring down soft white flakes at the break of dawn… So when I had an errand to run in the city centre this morning, I took along my camera to take some pictures of the snow – and as a matter of course ended up taking pictures of medieval churches in the snow. Now, for the medieval geeks among you, in the following I’ll add some basic (art) historical information on the buildings I photographed. For the sane ones among you: Just skip the text and enjoy the images!

What you see in the above photo is the roof and steeple of Vienna’s Michaelerkirche [St. Michael’s Church]. Its main facade is a rather unremarkable piece of neo-classical architecture, dating to 1792. But if you enter the building, or even if you walk around to its back on the outside, you realize that this is essentially a medieval structure. Note the ogival window frame, just about visible in this picture of the mid-14th century chancel:

Most of the church, however, is even older than that. Founded by Duke Leopold VI. of Austria in 1221, the still extant nave and transept were finished by 1252. While St. Michael’s is remarkable for being one of the first buildings in Vienna to feature architectural details in the Gothic style, it is still very much rooted in late Romanesque tradition. The latter is perhaps most evident on the exterior of the transept which comes with one of those round arch friezes so characteristic of Romanesque architecture:

Just a few minutes’ walk away is the Minoritenkirche, i.e. the Church of the Friars Minor or, as they are perhaps better known, the Franciscans. In 1224, three years after founding St. Michael’s Church, Duke Leopold VI. called a group of Franciscan friars to Vienna where they soon built a first, provisional chapel for their needs. Towards the end of the 13th century they started erecting a more durable structure which gradually grew into a sizeable church, comprising three naves and two choirs. Having gained its final form by 1390, today this church presents itself pretty much in its late 14th century state:

Well, there have, of course, been some alterations since then… As you can make out in the above picture, the top of the steeple is missing – it was destroyed by cannon fire when the Turks besieged Vienna in 1683. Later, two major remodeling campaigns – one in the late 1700s, one around 1900 – changed the aspect of the building even further, especially as regards its eastern parts. Still, the Minoritenkirche remains one of the finest examples of 14th century architecture in Austria, and on its southern front it features two of the most notable Rose windows in Austrian Gothic architecture:

With their splendid tracery, these Rose windows – carried out sometime after 1353 – show a direct influence of French Gothic architecture. The same is true for the church’s main portal, executed in the 1340s. With its tripartite tympanum it represents a type of portal which was quite unusual in Austria but fairly regular in France. Also, the relief of the Crucifixion in the tympanum was done by a sculptor who was obviously familiar with Parisian court art of his time, but don’t worry, I won’t go into that. At least not for now…

3 Responses to “Churches in the snow”

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I had the good fortune some time ago to study and work in Vienna for a year. I’m not even a fan of cold weather, but I think there’s something about a gray, snowy day that suits the city very well. I also have special fondness for these two churches: I attended a memorable concert at the Minoritenkirche and did a research project on Michaelerkirche. Your photography gives a fantastic impression of how close everything sits in the 1.Bezirk. I feel like I’m walking with you. Just love your blog. Thanks again!

  2. I must be a medieval geek because I read every word.

    • [c] said

      Hm, I’ve been thinking about this for some days now, and I’m afraid the wording of my post might have been unclear… I didn’t mean to suggest that everyone who reads the text is necessarily a geek. If you kept on reading despite my warning you may as well just be a nosy person ;-)
      On the other hand, if you actually found the text interesting or even enjoyed reading it, then yes, then you may put “penbrushneedle approved medieval geek” on your business card!

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