St. Peter's Church

Vienna, Austria

St. Peter's Church (Peterskirche) is thought to occupy the oldest Christian sacred site in Vienna, as a church has stood here since the second half of the 4th century. According to legend, Charlemagne founded a larger church here in 792.

The mediaeval church had three altars, with an apse in the south instead of the normal eastern orientation. This unusual feature has triggered many discussions among experts, and it is suspected that the church was adapted from a previously secular building. The church was surrounded by shops and a nearby building housed the Stadtguardia, a forerunner of the modern police. The old church burned down in 1661 and was given only makeshift repairs. The decision to build a new church was taken up with the arrival of the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity of which the emperor Leopold I was a member. He had taken a vow to rebuild this church when Vienna was ravaged by the plague in 1679-1680.

The construction of the new Baroque church was begun around 1701 under Gabriele Montani, who was replaced by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt in 1703. The design was inspired by the St. Peter's Basilica of the Vatican in Rome. By 1722, most of the building was finished, and in 1733, the Peterskirche was finally consecrated to the Holy Trinity. The new church was the first domed structure in baroque Vienna. Due to the confinement of available space, it was built in a very compact form, with its oval interior housing an astonishing amount of space and rectangular attachments. The church makes an overwhelming impression on the visitor with its surprisingly rich interior filled with golden stucco.

The turreted dome was mainly designed by Matthias Steinl, who was also responsible for the interior decoration and the pews with their fabulous cherubic heads. The frescoes were originally painted by the famous Italian Andrea Pozzo, whose paintings were removed after his death. As a result, in 1713, Johann Michael Rottmayr was able to start a completely new set. The fresco in the cupola represents the Coronation of Our Lady. On the triumphal arch one can see the coat of arms of emperor Leopold I. In the spandrels around the dome are portrayals of the four Evangelists and four Fathers of the Church, painted by the Viennese artist J.G. Schmidt. The same artist also painted the altarpiece in the side chapel of St. Michael.

The Baroque high altar was created by Antonio Galli Bibiena and his Bolognese workshop (construction) and Martino Altomonte (1657–1745) (altarpiece). The altarpiece portrays the Healing of the Lame by St. Peter and St. John in Jerusalem. The same artist also painted the altarpiece in the side chapel of the Holy Family. The small painting of the Immaculate Conception above the high altar is by the 19th century artist Kupelwieser. The shrines in the side chapels of the Holy Family and St. Michael contain martyrs from Roman catacombs, donated by Cardinal Kollonitz in 1733. They were put on clothes from this period and placed in the glass coffins.

The gilded ornate pulpit is a magnificent sculpture by Matthias Steinl (1726) with on top of the canopy a representation of the Holy Trinity. Opposite the pulpit, there is a dramatic gold-and-silver representation of the Martyrdom of St. John of Nepomuk, sculpted by Lorenzo Mattielli. On top of it is the beautiful statue of The Mother of God.

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Petersplatz 1, Vienna, Austria
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Founded: 1701-1733
Category: Religious sites in Austria

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