Gurk Cathedral is a Romanesque pillar basilica and former cathedral built from 1140 to 1200. It is one of the most important Romanesque buildings in Austria.
With its consecration in 1174, the grave of Saint Hemma of Gurk was relocated there from former Gurk Abbey, a Benedictine nunnery she had founded in 1043 and which was dissolved by Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg in 1070/72, in order to fund the newly established Gurk diocese and the construction of the cathedral. The cathedral chapter established in 1123 moved to Klagenfurt in 1787.
However, despite various late-medieval and Baroque modifications and additions it has preserved its Romanesque character. The elongated building has a westwork with two towers, a gallery, a crypt, and three apses. The crypt, with its 100 columns, is the oldest part of the cathedral. In the middle of the rural Gurktal, the imposing 60 m tall twin steeple of the cathedral can be seen from a very great distance.
Among the rich stock of medieval frescos and Baroque altars, the most notable are the frescos of the bishop's gallery in the west wing of the church which are master works of the serration style in European fresco paintings of the 13th century.
The former convent buildings are to the north of the church; the medieval parts were refashioned in the 17th century and are arranged around the early Baroque arcaded court. The entire convent complex is surrounded by a wall built in the late 15th century following Turkish incursions on the region.
Gurk Cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list in 1994.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).