St. Charles' Church
During the last Great Northern War Plague outbreak, that also struck Vienna, Emperor Charles VI vowed in St. Stephen's Cathedral on 22nd October 1713, to have a church built. It was dedicated to his patron saint, Charles Borromeo, who is also considered a plague saint. The imperial promise was intended to put an end to the plague. The plague was extinguished in 1714, and Emperor Charles VI announced an Architectural design competition for the construction.
The St. Charles' Church belongs to the type of votive churches, which is indicated by the golden letters under the front triangular gable after Psalm XXI: "Vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium deum." (I fulfilled the vows before the eyes of the God-fearing.)
Additionally, a votive plaque with a Latin inscription was attached above the portal, with which Charles VI counted himself among the happy survivors, here its translation:
"In honour of God Almighty, the venerable Charles Borromeo, the Intercessor, the exalted Emperor Charles VI, Catholic and Apostolic King, fulfilled the vow of which he owed for the health of the people in 1713 and which he took part in the same year."
Since the Charles Square was reestablished as an Architectural ensemble at the end of the 1980's, St. Charles' Church has not only acted with its dome and the two flanking relief columns, but also an architectural counterweight to the buildings of the Viennese Music Association and Vienna's University of Technology.
The church was the Patron Parish Church of the Emperor from 1783 to 1918 and since 1738 has been cared for by the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star from Prague. There were only interruptions to this pastoral arrangement from 1959 to 1976, when it was cared for by the Premonstratensians from Geras Abbey, and from 1989 to 2000, when the Opus Dei personal prelature took over. It is also the seat of the Catholic University community of the nearby Vienna's University of Technology, which is still run by Opus Dei.
The parish of St. Charles Borromeo, founded in 1783, was dissolved on 31st December 2016 and the parish area was added to the parish of Zur frohen Botschaft. Since 1st January 2017, St. Charles' Church is a Rectorate Church, which is still looked after by the Knights of the Cross with the Red Star.
In 2011, Ricardo Alejandro Luna took over the direction and the reconstruction of the church music in St. Charles' Church Vienna and was appointed as Kapellmeister and Cantor. In 2014, he founded the choir of St. Charles' Church, which in February 2018, as part of their first concert tour, together with the Sistine Chapel Choir in St. Peter's Basilica, contributed to the musical arrangement of the Liturgy of Holy Mass with Pope Francis. This High Mass was broadcast worldwide both on television and on the internet. Together with the choir of the Diocese of Terni-Narni-Amelia, Luna also organised the television service broadcast by Rai 1 in the Cathedral of Terni. In 2015, Luna received a composition commission from St. Charles' Church for a fanfare that serves as the church's hymn and entrance musik for large celebrations. The „Fanfare of St. Charles' Church Vienna“ (op. 19) was premiered on 8th November at the High Mass of the Patronage of St. Charles Borromeo under Luna's direction.
The Order of the Cross already had a boys' choir at St. Charles' Church – the Singspatzen, which disbanded in the 1950s. In September 2017, the Karlsknaben was founded as a successor boys' choir with the intention of performing regularly at Masses in St. Charles' Church.
Design, construction, financing
In the architectural composition, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach prevailed against Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, among others. He designed the church as a link between Rome and Byzantium. It is based on the appearance of Hagia Sophia and imitates Trajan's Column. The construction site was fixed on 11th November 1715; in the same year, the first stonemason jobs were given to the masters Johann Georg Haresleben and Elias Hügel in Kaisersteinbruch and Andreas Steinböck in Eggenburg.
On 4th February 1716, the foundation was laid on a hill on the right bank of the barely regulated Wien River. Due to the death of Haresleben in the same year, Hügel managed the stone carving work alone and became an employee of Fischer von Erlach. The fellow masters Johann Baptist Kral, Simon Sasslaber and Johann Sebastian Hillebrand worked with Hügel in comradeship.
On both sides of the choir of St. Charles' Church and as stairways to the oratories, there are unusually, generously dimensioned, spiral staircases. They belong to the style of spiral staircase with cheek pillars', a special type of staircase that originated in Rome. The first of these stairs is by Donato Bramante and was created for the Apostolic Palace of Vatican City (1507–1514). Numerous architects emulated with basically similar spiral staircases. With the influence of Italian-trained architects in Vienna, it was only logical to build on the Roman staircase mode of construction. The spacious, winding stairs of St. Charles' Church are a most impressive representation of the style.
Hard imperial stone was used for the main portal, for all staircases (imperial oratory), base plates, cornices and the monumental pedestals of the two columns. For the high altar, Elias Hügel designed the Mensa, Philipp Köchl the Tabernacle from Lasa marble and Johann Georg Röhrig from Linz altar steps from black Nassauer marble. The Viennese Bauhütte was initially represented by Johann Carl Trumler then, after his death, by Matthias Winkler, who were both court stone masons and Master builder of St. Stephen. The large, hollow pillars are made of Zogelsdorfer Stein, a work of the masters Andreas Steinböck and Franz Strickner. The spiral reliefs are made by the sculptors Johann Baptist Mader, Johann Baptist Straub and Jakob Christoph Schletterer, with the crowning eagle by Lorenzo Mattielli. Master Georg Deprunner from Loretto in Hungary made the Tholobate columns for the dome. The sixteen vases on the dome are from Ignaz Gunst.
After Fischer's death in 1723, the building was completed by his son Joseph Emanuel in 1739, who partially changed the plans. The church was originally oriented directly towards the Hofburg and until 1918 it was also an imperial patron, parish church.
As the author of Historical Architecture, Fischer combined a wide variety of elements. The church shows the imperial self-image of the founder and is based on the connection between Rome-Byzantium-Vienna in its formal language. The facade in the middle, which leads to the vestibule, corresponds to a Roman temple portico. The two columns next to it are based on Trajan's column in Rome, the reliefs showing the life of Charles Borromeo. But they also symbolise the two pillars of Solomon's temple Boaz and Jachin as well as the Pillars of Hercules and thus refer to the rule in Spain, which Charles VI had lost through the War of the Spanish Succession. The two tower pavilions, influenced by the Roman Baroque (Bernini and Borromini), extend alongside. A Dome with a diameter of 25m and high tholobate rises above the church hall, which was shortened and partially changed by the younger Fischer. The plan of the dome is not circular, but has the shape of an Ellipse. This is why the dome looks smaller, when viewed from the front entrance than when viewed from the side.
The construction costs were officially 304'045 Guilders and 22¼ Kreuzer and were borne by all crown lands, but also Spain, the Duchy of Milan and the Netherlands. In addition, fines were used, which the city of Hamburg had to reimburse, because „the mob there had demolished the chapel of Austrian's embassy“. In 1727, Marcus and Mayr Hirschl anticipated the renewal of their Jewish residence privileges in Vienna „to the Caroli Boromaei-Churches and Bibliotec buildings (Austria National Library) by 150'000 fl. [Guilders]“. There is talk of a further 100'000 Guilders, which the Hirschl Brothers should pay in installments at certain times.
The ikonographic program of the Great Church originates from Court official Carl Gustav Heraeus and connects St. Charles Borromeo with his imperial founder. The Relief on the Gable above the entrance refers to the occasion of the foundation: It shows, how the city, which was badly ravaged by the plague, is finally saved by the intercession of St. Charles Borromeo. On the Attic behind the Gable are the allegorical figures of Religion, Mercy, Penitence and Zeal for prayer. The attic is also one of the elements added by the younger Fischer. The pillars show motifs from the life of Charles Borromeo in a spiral relief, but are also intended to remind of the pillars of Heracles and function as symbols of imperial power. The entrance is flanked by two angels. One shows the exaltation of the Brazen Serpent as a symbol of the Old Testament, the other the Cross of Christ as a representative of the New Testament.
The portal's program also continues inside, especially in the dome's fresco by Johann Michael Rottmayr from Salzburg and Gaetano Fanti (mock architecture), which depicts an intercession by Charles Borromeo, supported by Mary. This scene is flanked by the Three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity Love). The frescoes in some of the side chapels are attributed to Daniel Gran.
The picture on the high altar, depicting the admission of St. Charles Borromeo into heaven, was designed by the older Fischer and executed by Ferdinand Maximilian Brokoff. The altar pieces in the six side chapels are from different artists, among others by Daniel Gran, Sebastiano Ricci, Martino Altomonte, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and Jacob van Schuppen. On the side volutes of two side altars are allegorical figures by the Venetian sculptor Antonio Corradini.
The lighting and the architectural structure, especially the high arcade openings in the main axis, have a strong effect. The color is determined by the marble and gold fittings are deliberately used sparingly. The large round leadlight high above the main altar with the hebrew JHWH-Tetragrammaton symbolises God's Omnipotence and, thanks to its warm yellow tone, simultaneously the Love of God.
St. Charles' Church is considered to be Fischer's main work, in addition to the buildings in Schönbrunn, which are only fragmentarily preserved in this form.
On the organ loft with its porch is a baroque organ, the builder of which is unknown. The middle case dates from around 1739. However, the instrument was fundamentally modified by Joseph Seyberth in 1847 and equipped with a free-standing console. Both side wings also date from this period.
The organ builder Gerhard Hradetzky again extensively renovated the instrument in 1989. The Physharmonica was reconstructed. The keyboards have also been renewed and the broken octave has been expanded chromatically.
The frescoes in the dome of St. Charles' Church are currently accessible via a panoramic elevator that takes visitors around 32 metres above ground level; from there, access to the Roof lantern was possible until March 2018.
The church elevator was installed in 2002, for the purpose of renovating the dome frescoes. At that time, the church officials announced that it would be dismantled at the end of 2005. Until then, tourists and other church visitors should be able to use the elevator and watch the restorers at work. Because the lift was built as a pure source of income for years (until today) although the restoration work was already completed, visitors of St. Charles' Church fluctuate between euphoria and rejection: On the one hand, it offers the unique opportunity to take a closer look at the dome frescoes. On the other hand, the complex elevator construction has an extremely negative impact on the overall impression of the interior of the church.
In the low-visitor months of January/February 2018, the church interior was closed and a new, 50 % more compact visitor frame was built, which offers a staircase and a now barrier-free lift to the platform under the dome with ceiling fresco. The high view over Vienna is no longer provided through a pigeon guard, but through a newly installed panoramic glass window. On 5th March 2018, a civil engineer checked the system, shortly afterwards the scaffolding was opened for the visiting again and the entry price was raised from 2.5€ to 8€. A virtual flight around St. Charles' Church via video is included.
Entry in the Austriaforum: https://austria-forum.org/af/AEIOU/Karlskirche
Werbeka Netshop: https://www.werbeka.com/wien/karlskd.htm
Opening times and opportunities to visit: http://www.karlskirche.at/