St. Stephan’s Cathedral, Vienna
It must have been the summer of 2003. I went to stay in Poland for three months with my
mother. We stayed at my Aunt Anna’s house. I hated it, I was trapped with my six year
old cousin and as a moody teenager, I did not enjoy it. My Uncle proposed we drive to
Austria to help us all get out and see the sights. We drove there Saturday morning and
arrived in Vienna by Saturday night. I remember waking up Sunday at 7 o’clock in
morning at the hotel to bells. It was as if there was an alarm clock for the entire city, and I
grumbled wondering who on Earth would wake someone up at such an ungodly hour. By
8 o’clock I was out wandering the city, and I noticed all the shops were closed. I was
horror stricken since I was not there to get a fill for the city history- in fact at the time I
did not even know anything about Austria’s history. It was when I saw the beautiful St.
Stephens Cathedral that I started to open my eyes to the beauty of the city, and my trip
started to seem to better.
Looking back on my trip, St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the only monument I can
easily picture in my mind when I think of Vienna. The St. Stephen’s Cathedral was first
commenced in 1230 during the height of the Romanesque style of architecture. Within
the city the Cathedral stands tall and isolated from the rest of the city in its own square.
“St. Stephan’s, the symbol of the city, towered over it, even [in 12th century].” (Toman,
22) Even today it is easy to see that the Cathedral expresses the grandeur of Vienna.
Referring to the Middle Ages, “an eleventh-century monk, Raoul Glaber, summed
it up well when he exclaimed that the world was putting on a ‘white mantle of
churches.’” (Janson, 184) These churches were meant to be more grand, striking, and in
essence more “Roman looking” (Janson, 184), and thus dubbed as “Romanesque”. This
new style was truly a shift from the more common Middle Age architecture which
focused more on stiff angles and plain exteriors. St. Stephan’s was virtually one of the
first of these new forms of Cathedrals being built. “Their naves now had stone vaults
instead of wooden roofs, their exteriors, unlike those of previous churches, were
decorated with both architectural ornament and sculpture…it might as well have
represented the Catholic world…we have a wealth of architectural invention unmatched
by any previous era.” (Janson, 184) However, what makes St. Stephan’s Cathedral more
interesting is the fact that it was founded on Romanesque ideals but due to fires that
“burnt down several times in quick succession and in 1230…the west wing was rebuilt on
the same ground plan [but] in 1258 the clergy started to prepare for reconstruction of the
church until another fire devastated the church.” (Toman, 22) The Cathedral which had to
be rebuilt several times started to have reconstruction that began in a new age of Gothic
style architecture. As a result, the Cathedral became a mix of best of both art styles.