Wednesday 26 September 2012

Pilgrimage to Vienna September 2010 - Day 1

This years pilgrimage went to Vienna - a city full of Catholic heritage. We started in the afternoon of the 19th with a walk around the city centre including presentations of the Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) and the Pestsäule (Plague monument), both on the Graben ("graben" meaning grave or ditch - one of the main streets in central Vienna). The presentations were held by different pilgrims and were all very good (well, my own might have been a little short... and slightly confused).

The Peterskirche, here to the left, is one of the oldest churches in Vienna, the first church on the site was built in the early Middle Ages and there have been several churches there before the current baroque one which was built in the beginning of the 18th century. It has a rather impressive exterior, the kind you want to take a step back to really admire. This, however, is impossible since this rather grand church has been squeezed into, in my mind, far to small a spot. The interior, too, is interesting, with a golden image of St. John of Nepomuc being thrown off the Charles Bridge in Prague. I was in Prague a few weeks before the pilgrimage to Vienna and I saw the tomb of St. John in St. Vitus' Cathedral at Prague Castle, designed by Fischer von Erlach, the very famous architect who also did much work in Vienna. John of Nepomuc lived in the 14th century and was considered a martyr after being drowned in the Vltava river for refusing to divulge secrets from the confessional of the queen of Bohemia, to whom he was the confessor. He's the patron against calumnies and a protector from floods. He was canonized in 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

The Pestsäule is a magnificent column crowned by golden statues of the trinity and a stone one of Emperor Leopold I kneeling in front of them. It was he who erected the column after God answered his prayer to end the 1678 plague epidemic a little early. The original monument was made of wood but when God was nice enough to also help drive out the Turks from Vienna in 1683 the Emperor replaced it with the one you can see here on the right.

But Vienna has more to offer the fun loving catholic; a couple of us who were early to arrive made good use of the extra time and went to Mass in the Hofburg Chapel, with the boys choir singing, and then went to see the Spanish Riding School - amazing horses performing the most advanced and exquisite dressage movements, the performance being set to music. The Spanish Riding School is thus called because the horses they use, called Lipizzaners, were brought from Spain by the Emperor Charles VI who founded the riding school in the 18th century. Up until two years ago all the riders at the school were men but they now also allow girl riders and have, we learned from the guide as we walked through the stables, two female riders training now. The riding school itself is an incredible building located in the Hofburg with the stables just across the Herrengasse.

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