A visit to the area that hosts important sites of memory related to the victims and oppressors of WWII (e.g. The City Synagogue located on Seitenstettengasse, as well as Morzinplatz, the place where Gestapo used to have its headquarter) proves rewarding from a different vantage point. Here, near the bank of Danube, in what once was the Roman camp of Vindobona, there is located the oldest church of Vienna: Saint Ruprecht (1). Its appearance is arresting due to the impressive Romanesque tower and double windows. 

Inside the church, the visitor gets a similar feeling of amazement rooted in the unique combination of early and late Gothic statues and church ornaments like the baptismal font, of Baroque features like the altar ceiling and the clothing and accessories noticeable in the sarcophagus of Saint Vitalis, of modernist stained windows conceived by Lydia Roppolt. The wooden sculpture of Saint Ruprecht is made around 1370. He holds a bishop stick in the right hand, whereas in the left hand, supposedly there was a salt cellar or a book. The other significant wooden sculpture, a production of late Gothic, represents Madonna in rich drapery, holding Jesus, who, amazingly enough, does not have the usual stance in which he is blessing the world sitting on his mother’s lap, but he is rather hiding his face as he is clinging to Mary`s braids. Seen from bottom to top, the statue does not have a base, instead, there is a dark face looking from beneath. 

With the significant exception of the three windows in the apse (one dates back to 14th century, the other two being more recent additions made by Heinrich Tahedl in the spirit of the older ones), all other stained windows of the church were created by Lydia Roppolt in 1992/1993; they make reference to the Old Testament motives and scenes. Roppolt was an artist who specialized in stained glass making for churches. Her style hints to the interwar modernism.      

Legends say the church was built in the 8th century by Chuniald and Gislar, two companions of Rupert/Ruprecht, a bishop active in the Salzburg area, also known as the patron of salt transporters. In fact, in the mid 16th century, the salt shipping fraternity had its seat in the church, and efforts had been made towards the emperor to transform it in a salt store, which never happened. 

Unlike other medieval churches (Saint Stephen included), Saint Ruprecht is not oriented towards the sunrise of the consecration day, but rather towards the south-east. Its present shape is the result of numerous changes and alterations that were made throughout the centuries, more significantly in the 13th, 14th, and 15th following the great city fire of 1276 which damaged a significant part of the church. In the 17th and 18th century, the church`s exterior and interior were transformed in Baroque style. The bombings of WWII further damaged the church, whose interior was designed in the end to accommodate the spectacular mix of medieval and modern features. This happened in 1997. The final restoration of outside walls, including their protection of the humidity coming from the nearby river is an ongoing project to which the passer-by is invited to bring his/her contribution. 

(1) Starting 1147, the parish church of Saint Stephen was consecrated as the oldest church in Vienna. 

Source: Saint Ruprecht`s Church, published by Rektorat St. Ruprecht, Vienna, 2018

2 thoughts on “A Gem of Vienna, Austria: Saint Ruprecht, the Oldest Church of the City

  1. Yes! A real gem that often gets overlooked by the bigger and more well known churches in the city. And yes the mix of stained glass. Most of them being done in a very modern style while still having the old stained glass in the apse. I believe one of those windows is thought to be the oldest stained glass in Austria.

    Liked by 1 person

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