Sunday, November 07, 2010

Mountaineering Vienna Style

Last Sunday, I went "mountaineering" in Vienna. Not on a mountain, but a church. I had seen the guided tour of church and rooftop in programme of my district's Volkshochschule and asked culture-vulture MM if she wanted to join me. She did. The church is called Maria vom Siege (basically the Austrian twin of "Santa Maria della Vittoria" in Vienna) and located between Westbahnhof and Gumpendorferstraße U6 stations. The parish has a surprisingly cool homepage, too. Tours can also be booked directly via the website.

The church has a red brick exterior (rather unusual in Austria) and was planned by the same architect who built the city hall. I had never been into the building before, but like all Viennese who have ever driven past it on the "Gürtel" have noticed the huge banner on its facade reading There's someone who loves you... Jesus Christ.

Below this promise of love is an appeal to save the "architectural jewel". It is indeed in dire need of funds for renovation as this picture of a pillor in the inerior of the church clearly illustrates:
After a slightly lenghty (for my taste anyway, but I don't actually like guided tours all that much) tour of the church itself by a very pious layman, we were joined by Father Bruno, who's the priest of the church and a member of an order I had never heard of: the Calasantines, founded by José de Calsanz. You live and learn.

Father Bruno told us he hailed from the Vorarlberg provice and due to his upbringing on a farm in the mountains and the fact that his father was a roofer, he liked climbing. He explained the increasing level of difficulty if people wanted to follow him up to the very rooftop and about half of the - rather geriatric - group chose to say their goodbyes right away.

The first stage which could be reached via a narrow winding staircase wasn't all that high nor challenging:
It was the level of the base of the cupola which is currently covered with a net in order to prevent pieces of frescoes and plasterwork falling onto the congregation. This means that the actual frescoes cannot be seen from down below.

The next stage was inside the "attic", but higher up so we could actually see the top of the cupola. Father Bruno is standing on it in the picture below:
Only a handful of people were lured up to the highest level, the spire, by the promise of a breathtaking view in the dawn. It really was worth it:
I'm not lying - my knees were shaking when I saw the first ladder. Oh, have I mentioned that I am afraid of hights? Well, the exit to the top platform looks quite harmless and the top 3 wooden ladders were okay-ish as they were relatively short. The whole attic was pitch dark, by the way.
It was the first ladder that was really scary. It was very long and with nowhere to hold onto left and right of it. Basically, it was a steel ladder that was pulled out to its maximum lenght and as I was halfway up to the first wooden platform my only thought was "How on earth am I ever going to get down from there again?" The photo doesn't show the darkness, nor the lenght and "freestanding-ness" of the wretched ladder, but believe you me, it was quite a challenge:
I suppose the fact that we were in a place of worship provide us with an extra vigilant guardian angel, but I was really glad when I was on street level again. The following day, the muscles in my thighs were really sore as I must have tensed up climbing those ladders.

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