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Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Vienna, Austria

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, located in the heart of the Vienna, symbolizes the city’s pride and spirit. Heavily damaged in World War II, the church has been restored to its ornate glory. Its Gothic pulpit is a masterpiece.

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The massive St. Stephen's Cathedral is the Gothic needle around which Vienna spins. While heavily damaged in WWII, the church survived. Today it symbolizes the city's freedom and proud spirit.

In the last days of the war, the original timbered Gothic rooftop went up in flames. Shortly after the war — with a financial outpouring of civic pride — the roof was rebuilt in its original colorful splendor. The ceramic tiles are purely decorative. Locals who contributed each symbolically "own" one for their donation.

The ornate nave is Gothic with a Baroque overlay. While the columns support the roof, they also tell a story. Richly populated with statues, they make a saintly parade that leads right up to the high altar. In this statue of Mary — called the Madonna with the Protective Mantle — people of all walks of life seek and find refuge in the holy mother. Nearby, St. Sebastian — who never goes anywhere without his arrows — reminds the faithful of his martyrdom.

The centerpiece of this cathedral dedicated to St. Stephen is a painting depicting the stoning of the early Christian martyr himself.

WWII damage was heavy inside and out. Portable treasures, like this 15th century altarpiece, were hidden away in local cellars before the bombs fell. Before the war, the entire church was lit with windows like these. But most of the church's fine glass was destroyed. The Tupperware-colored replacements date from 1950.

The Gothic pulpit, carved from sandstone, is a masterpiece. Its busy symbolism legitimized the gospel message which was read from its lectern. Readings were literally and figuratively supported by the four Latin Church fathers. Below it all is a self-portrait of a self-assured artist proud of his creation.

Most Gothic art was created anonymously… for the glory of God, not the artist. But much of the art here was sculpted around the year 1500 when the Renaissance spirit, so strong in Italy, was creeping north. With the humanism of the Renaissance, man was allowed to shine — and artists — like Anton Pilgram, a master builder of this cathedral — were recognized as creators also.