The Peterskirche is not only one of the most beautiful baroque sacred buildings in Vienna but is also the only one in Vienna entirely created while the Baroque period. From the dome to the pulpit it is built just only in baroque style. Not only the facade but also the interior including the side altars are designed in baroque style. It is also the first „tambour“(drummer) dome in Vienna and was the model for other sacred buildings in the Austrian monarchy. The design of the 56 meter high dome is reminiscent of the dome of St. Peter in the Vatican.
Presumably the Emperor wanted to make to be seen all the similarities between St. Peter's Church in Vienna and St. Peter in Rome. They were both ultimately dedicated to Saint Peter, which could also only point to the Pontifex Peter.
Another theory leads us to the middle of the 11th century, the time of the re-establishment of Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church), in which many relationships between Vienna and Salzburg are proven.These relationships could also explain the dedication of the Church to St. Peter.
The Peterskirche was designed completely different in the Middle Ages:
In the 14th century, the entrance to the church was in Tuchlauben, in a more westerly direction. The high altar was in today's Goldschmiedgasse, so rotated 180 degrees than the current one.
At that time the church had also three-aisles, but only half the size of the present-day one, and it was also dark and cold. To go to church, you even had to go down the steps under the street.
Unfortunately, this old church burned very often.
In addition, in the 17th century many people died of the plague, the Ottomans tried to conquer Vienna. These were not happy times and so the Emperor Leopold I. thought that a little more grace from God could only help.
So funding was sought for a thorough renovation or even a new building, which was finally made available by the aristocratic members of the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity. The new building of St. Peter's Church was also celebrated as thanks after the end of the plague. In addition, the architecture of St. Peter's Church in Vienna should be reminiscent of the design of St. Peter's Church in Rome.
About 200 years earlier, the doctor, church master, humanist and historian Wolfgang Lazius tried to renovate the church at his own expense. But another fire destroyed everything again. Wolfgang Lazius is one of the most important personalities of the 16th century not only because of his private attempt at renovating St. Peter's Church, but also thanks to his book “Vienna Austriae”.
In 1546 he wrote the first history of Vienna with the name "Vienna Austriae", which also contains a topographical directory of important buildings and streets in Vienna.
He suffered from gout and stones and died at the age of 51 on June 19, 1565. After his death, the street where he lived was named after him.
Today we find the Judengasse there and only the name “Lazenhof” is preserved. His body was buried in St. Peter's Church, where it is still today. An epitaph is in St. Peter's Church on the left under the gallery.
To appease the god, there were many Prayer and Thanks processions under Leopold I, which, as we know today, only led to more sick and dead people.
In 1679, when the epidemic, known to us as the plague, the pest, killed many people, Leopold I vowed that as soon as the plague was over a new church would be built, as a thank you to God and as a token of triumph over death.
At the end of the height of the plague, Leopold I not only rebuilt St. Peter's Church from scratch, but also built the plague column at Graben.
The new building of St. Peter's Church should represent the triumph of the Ecclesia (Church) Militans (Action) and the of House of Habsburg over the plague and also over the Ottomans
At the time of Leopold I, St. Peter's Church was not only the main church in Vienna but also an imperial church and foundation. Therefore, the Emperor Leopold I was responsible for maintaining the Peterskirche.
Leopold I. was artistically very gifted and tried to give unknown artists a chance. Presumably for this reason, he hired an architect unknown at that time in Vienna, a travelling artist by the name of Gabriel Montani, who was only trained as a fortress architect but had no experience in building churches. The foundation stone was laid by the emperor in the spring of 1702, but there were always accidents during the construction work and so some stories about it emerged.
It was said that the boards collapsed during a solemn procession in autumn. Leopold I. himself barely escaped with his life, but many court cavaliers and pages were seriously injured or died.
The fact is that a few months later Montani was recalled to Spain because, despite mistakes, every fortress builder was in great demand during the war of the Spanish Succession.
At that time St. Peter had only the foundation walls.
However, this is only one version of the legend. The fact is that there have been major problems and probably also some accidents during construction.
From 1703 on, Leopold I commissioned the experienced Johann L. von Hildebrandt to build the new St. Peter's Church.
There are no known documents in this sense, but in a document relating to a Linz church, Hildebrandt is referred to Hildebrandt as Master v. Called St. Peter in Vienna.
So Hildebrand was in charge and he turned the church around as it is today.
In this given area he found enough space for this wonderful oval church building and longitudinal oval main room with a rectangular choir.
The central room has two main ancillary rooms and two small ancillary rooms each. This creates a transverse axis, a crossing.
The facade in the new entrance area is flanked by inclined three-story towers with onion helmets that are placed a little over the corner.
As we will see in a moment during our walk around the church, the presbytery is rounded and oriented to the north and it has small rectangular annexes to the left and right.
Five years after Hildebrandt was in charge, the shell was consecrated on October 25, 1708.
In 1729, under Emperor Karl VI., the imperial stage architect Antonio Galli-Bibiena had to continue the planning for the new building of St. Peter's Church and Rottmayr was commissioned with the dome fresco.
Kaiser Karl VI - son of Leopold I.
Father of Maria Theresia
•Music fan & composer;
•Court chapel under Josef Fuchs.
•Karlskirche named after him.
•Reconstruction of Klosterneuburg Abbey based on the Escorial model.
•Reconstruction of the Hofburg from a fortress to a palace:
•Imperial Chancellery Wing, Riding School, National Library.
•1719-Establishment of the Oriental Company as a state-organized trading company.
•1718-Prinz Eugen - Peace of Passarowitz against the Ottomans;
•Cabinet wars (wars no longer aimed at total annihilation).
As with all major projects of the time, the construction of St. Peter's Church proceeded very slowly.
The wood of the dome was damaged during construction and Emperor Karl VI, as a member of the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, had to donate the copper for the dome, because the wood was not really usable. It was certainly not a pretty sight, because the church had no facade for a very long time.
It was not until May 17, 1733 that the church was consecrated by Cardinal Count Sigismund Kollonitsch.
Like every other church in Vienna, from the middle of the 19th century was also the Peterskirche very often rebuilt, renovated and restored.
By the way: The Peterskirche is not accessible for groups, only for individuals and only if there are no Holy Mass, concerts or rehearsals inside.
A nativity scene exhibition has been taking place each year in St. Peter's Church in Advent since the 1960s. The game and concerts plan is available online here:
We are now walking around the church to see the relief of Charlemagne.
We suspect that the original structure of the Peterskirche is one of the oldest and probably even one of the first churches in Vienna.
There is evidence that a Roman barrack was rebuilt or used as a temple on this site of the Vindobona in the third or fourth century.
A little later a hall church was built at this place. Unfortunately, there is no written evidence for or against it.
In "Vienna Austriae" by Lazius was also a legend of the founding of St. Peter's Church by Charlemagne. This beautiful but unconfirmed legend is shown on the marble relief:
During the great migration the Avars conquered the country up to the Enns and they allied themselves with the Bavarian Duke Tassilo, which Charlemagne did not like at all. The triumphal march of Charlemagne lasted only 52 days and twelve churches were built on his way from Bavaria to Petronell / Carnuntum. Unfortunately, there is no evidence of this.
It was not until 1906 that Rudolf von Weyr was commissioned to design a marble relief with the story of Charlemagne's triumphal procession. This is located on the east side of St. Peter's Church, across from Goldschmiedgasse.
As we now see as we walk around the church, the rounded presbytery faces north. Small rectangular extensions are on its sides.
Here, at the end of the choir, we see the large arched windows with bent roofs in which the stone figures of St. Peter and Archangel Michael are.
These statues were created by Lorenzo Mattielli at around 1730.
There is another legend about the foundation stone of St. Peter's Church
The foundation stone of the first church was found in 1701 during renovations. An old particle of Pope Leo III, the friend of Charlemagne, was mentioned in a memorial book in 1749. We assume that the foundation stone was laid around 800. The inscription on this foundation stone proves it. However, the Trinity Brotherhood was also abolished under Joseph II and most of the documents were destroyed at that time.
Around the church on Petersplatz there was for a very long time a cemetery with a market (also under Josef II) and even after that time there were a lot of sales huts around the church. After the Holy Mass, people went together for a beer or to buy fruits, vegetables, oil for the candle and they did it right next to the church.
These sales cottages were not removed until 1843.
There was something similar at the Schotten, where there is today still a weekly market for fruits, vegetables, items for Christmas and Easter. Also around St. Ruprecht, where today there is the Bermuda Triangle with many restaurants and where there is in the meantime also a memorial for the victims of the attack against the Viennese in November 2020.
We continue our walk around the church until we stand in front of the entrance portal of Peterskirche.
When we look at St. Peter's Church in Vienna, we are very impressed by the huge dome.
This 56 meter high dome is the first dome structure, even the first „tambour“ dome in Vienna, and is intended to be reminiscent of the dome of St. Peter in Rome. The St. Peter's Church in Vienna became the model for other church buildings in the former Austrian monarchy, such as Karlskirche.
Let's take a close look at the facade of the church and enjoy the dominant dome, the two towers that are inclined and seem to guard the dome with their three floors. What is particularly impressive to us is the play of shapes, which seduces our eyes once outwards and once inwards in a geometric game of concave-convex surfaces. The two floors of the church appear even more monumental and majestic. This type of facade design is completely new and is later used very often as a baroque church facade in the Austrian monarchy. There is a similarity here with the Holy Trinity Church in Salzburg, which was designed by Hildebrand's competitor, Fischer von Erlach.
Let us take another look at this masterpiece: We see a clear structure of the entire building through the giant pilaster order structuring the building vertically. These giant pilasters are placed on high pedestals. However, each floor also has its own, small order of pilasters. We also see how beautifully the double pilasters are placed a little bit over the corner.
In this picture you can see what means to be convex.
A horizontal structure is also clearly visible through the very strong cordon cornices.
The stone balustrades are also very easy to see.
Below the towers we see niches that are semi-circular in shape and decorated with the following stone statues:
LEFT: St. Peter and St. Simon,
RIGHT: Johannes Evangelist (according to Paul Harrer St. Paulus) and Judas Thaddäus
At the very top of the facade, a clock has been enchanting since 1722.
The entrance deserves our full attention. At the very top we see three lead statues representing faith, hope and love. We also see angels with insignia of papal sovereignty: tiara and keys. These were created by a student of Georg Raphael Donner. His name was Franz Kohl and after the death of his master he was commissioned to complete the figures. So these figures were actually inspired by Georg Raphael Donner.
These statues are located on the late baroque portal’s roof of Peterskirche which was created from gray Gutenstein marble based on a design by Andrea Altomonte. However, this happened relatively late, towards the middle of the 18th century (in the period 1751-1753).
Inside the portal we find a written reminder of the imperial vow Leopld’s I about the end of the plague. Let's admire these beautiful carvings and the original fittings of the wooden doors together. These are even protected from the monument protection office Vienna.
Let's go back a few steps and look upwards: At the very top of the dome there is a building with windows in which the light is bundled as much as possible. This structure is known as the lantern. The Holy Spirit brings enlightenment and always floats at the very top in the light and therefore this is mostly painted in white, yellow or gold. The windows of the lantern focus the sun's rays and the beautiful effect became a symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Below the lantern, the huge 56-meter-high dome dominates the appearance of Peterskirche which should remind of the dome of St. Peter in Rome.
Now let's go into St. Peter's Church and take a closer look at the church and the dome:
If you go in and look up, you first see the coronation of Mary with God the Father from the entrance, while at the top we can sense the Holy Spirit in the lantern.
The angels carry Arma Christi and the cross. We see the coronation of Mary by God the Father and the Son of God while the Holy Spirit floats over us in the lantern. All around are the apostles, many well-known saints and figures from the Old Testament, the three archangels and many other angels. Michael Rottmayr painted the dome fresco in Peterskirche in just two years almost all by himself using the technique of Illusion painting.
The theme in the Peterskirche is, as in Salzburg, the Holy Trinity, because at that time there was a lot of building and renovation, including in Melk, the Karlskirche in Vienna and the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in Salzburg, so there were mutual influences.
However, almost the entire career of Rottmayr lies between the dome in Salzburg and that of Peterskirche in Vienna and the knowledge gained can be clearly seen in the design of the dome fresco in the Peterskirche:
*The figures in Peterskirche are smaller and therefore the distance is clearer;
*The angels seem better to float around the lantern;
*The figures around Mary and the cross are not occupied with each other, they seem to look at the viewer.
*The hand of Christ is not led inwards here, but points in the direction of the cross.
The large dome fresco inside the Trinity Church in Salzburg was designed by Johann Michael Rottmayr between 1697 and 1700, almost 13 years before the fresco in St. Peter's Church in Vienna.
It was Rottmayr's first sacred dome fresco and depicts the coronation of Mary by the Holy Trinity with the assistance of the Archangel Michael. There are also many other angels, prophets, the ten Holy Pontifex, other saints and the church patriarchs. The fresco shows practically the history of the church and completes the impression of the baroque ecclesia triumphans, the triumphant church.
We see in both churches that a Holy Spirit is painted in the top lantern. Above is the Holy Spirit and everything else is below, the Trinity and the saints then move deeper and deeper to the bricked part. The Trinity is always in the illuminated zone, up to the lantern. Rottmayr is even building a wall around the lantern and this is painted with laurels. Turkeys sit and fly on their laurels, and sometimes they also carry something. This is where Rottmayer differs from other artists who lead the clouds up into infinity.
It was Rotmayr's idea to group the figures on concentrically arranged banks of clouds and thereby achieve a principle of order. Martyrs can appear on the clouds. They can overthrow unbelief with its dark, sinister figures.
We are now going outside the Peterkirche and looking back one more time. There is still such a „tambour“ dome in Vienna in Karlskirche but also in the National Library.
It is very nice that you are interested in such beautiful buildings and also that you have read everything up to this point.
Until next time.
© 2021 Nicoleta Schiel