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Churches in Vienna, Austria

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 TwoYears Ago: Four Viennese Churches in Four Days
A few days ago, my wife and I visited two spectacular Gothic churches: St. Charles and The Votive. The St. Charles Church had a unique feature: a lift and then a long winding stairway to the top of the cupola. Along the way we were only inches from gorgeous murals with tableaux ranging from sinners grappling with monstrous snakes to saints adoring the risen Christ. Our intimate experience with gloriously ascending religious iconography was well worth a few Euros and a bit of vertigo.
The Votive Church had its own special treat: dozens of impeccably stained glass windows with rich dark blues, greens, and reds well surpassing those of the most expensive and expressive home theater screen. Two awesome scenes in particular impressed me: a nonchalant St. George killing a magnificently malevolent dragon and a raggedy robed peasant playing a violin with as much abandon as a fiddler on the roof.
This Sunday, we visited two more churches: The Church of Maria am Gestade and St. Peter’s Church. Before Mass, we traversed the Marian church. It wasn’t as ornate as other gothic churches in Vienna. I didn’t see much gold, silver, or even brass. However, it had one outstanding attribute: sturdy burnished wood that gleamed and resonated throughout the sanctuary. This church had a commonsensical aura to it that would appeal to the more austere Austrians.
An hour later, we attended a Mass at the ultra-Gothic St. Peter’s Church, more for the music than for the message. I enjoyed listening to the accomplished, uplifting Korean choir ensemble in between the priest’s intermittent exhortations. During the priest’s sermon—most of which I couldn’t fathom, my German being only rudimentary—I discretely looked around the church. I was amazed. Everything in the sanctuary was symmetrical on either side of the main aisle. None of the lustrous white marble and gold sculptures throughout the church were identical in size or in the subject depicted. But whether they were on ground level or above, there were just as many of them in corresponding sections on my right as there were on my left. The same applied to the pastel wall paintings, intricate wood carvings, and miscellaneous brass engravings.
Near the end of the sermon, I closed my tired eyes that had so meticulously scanned the church. When I opened them, the lower half of the brass sculpture of St. Peter to my right stared at me. In it, two vicious Romans are flogging the soon-to-be martyred St. Peter, who with a blazing reverence is securely holding onto a simple cross.
The image of St. Peter oblivious to his tormentors, fortified in his rock-hard faith, imbued the mass with a welcomed sanctity.
While some people prefer to worship without being distracted by religious imagery, I feel that a fresco or a statue—as it did today—can add a spiritual dimension that transcends mere words, even if you can understand them.
I have no interest in religious creeds. What inspires me is the religious spirit, wherever it may be found, in churches (from Catholic to Wiccan), synagogues, mosques, or temples.

schlomo
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