The Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) in Vienna has survived through many wars and has become a symbol of Vienna's freedom. The Gothic cathedral was first built in 1147 AD and its most recognizable characteristic, the diamond-patterned tile roof, was added in 1952.
History of the Stephansdom
The first church to occupy the site of St. Stephan's Cathedral was a Romanesque church, which was replaced by a larger Romanesque basilica in 1147. A major fire in 1258 destroyed the basilica and construction on the present Gothic cathedral began in the early 14th century.
The cathedral suffered damage during the Turkish seige of 1683 and again in the closing days of World War II, when fire from streetfighting leapt to the rooftop. The cathedral was reopened in 1948; the roof was repaired and decorated with ceramic tiles donated by Viennese citizens in 1950.
Among the important events that have occurred at St. Stephen's are Mozart's wedding in 1782 and his funeral in December 1791.
What to See at the Stephansdom
The cathedral is an impressive Gothic edifice of dark stone with a colorful tiled roof and a north tower rising to 450 feet (135m) named Alter Steffl, "Old Steve." Originally built between 1359 and 1433, it was reconstructed after severe war damage. A climb of 343 spiral steps provides sweeping view of the city from the top.
The north tower (Nordturm) was never finished to match its partner, but was given a Renaissance crown in 1529. The top of this tower, also with fine views and a look at the Pummerin bell, is reached by an elevator ride. The Pummerin bell is one of the largest bells in the world, cast from a cannon captured from the Turks in 1683. It rings out over the city on New Year's Eve.
The "O5" carved into the stone outside the cathedral's massive front door has important historical significance. The 5 stands for the fifth letter of the alphabet, E. When added to the O it makes OE, the abbreviation for Österreich (Austria). It was a covert sign of resistance to the Nazi annexation of Austria.
The interior is packed with interesting things to see, including many important artworks. One of the greatest treasures is the Wiener Neustadt altarpiece (1447) in the left chapel of the choir. Richly gilded and painted, it depicts the Virgin Mary between St. Catherine and St. Barbara.
The stone pulpit (1510-50) in the middle of the nave bears the images of four Latin church fathers: Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory and Augustine, all full of personality. A rare self-portrait of the artist (Anton Pilgram) is under the stairs, looking out a window with his sculptor's compass. This marks the transition point into the Renaissance, when artists began to be famous instead of anonymous.
The pulpit's railing is covered in interesting symbols: the lizards are animals of light, the toads are animals of darkness, and the "Dog of the Lord" at the top protects the sermon from their influence. Wheels with three parts (the Trinity) roll up, while wheels with four parts (the four seasons, representing mortal or worldly life) roll down.
Also of note is the unusual 17th-century tomb of Emperor Frederick III in the Apostles' Choir, which depicts hideous creatures trying to wake up the emperor.
Quick Facts on the Stephansdom
|Names:||St. Stephen's Cathedral · Stephansdom|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||48.208409° N, 16.373111° E|
|Phone:||513 76 48|
|Hours:||Daily 6am to 10pm. No access to the nave during services.|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Stephansdom|
- Domkirche St. Stephan (St. Stephan's Cathedral) - Frommer's
- Stephansdom Review - Fodor's
- Rick Steves' Austria
- Stephansdom Official Website (Germany only, but many photos)
- Donald Olsen, The City as a Work of Art: London, Paris, Vienna.
- Richard Rickett, St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.
- Martin Sicker, The Islamic World in Ascendancy: From the Arab Conquests to the Siege of Vienna.
- Stephansdom, Vienna - Go Historic
- Photos of the Stephansdom - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of the Stephansdom, Vienna
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Stephansdom. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.