This morning I woke and rushed through my morning rituals because I had a really important appointment – I was to meet V (my British expat buddy) and a few of her friends at Josefsplatz to attend Sunday morning service. I’m not a regular church attendee and given the fact, that in Austria, tithes are automatically deducted from your salary should you state your religious affiliation on your registration form (guess they’ve got to maintain all these lovely centuries-old churches somehow), I don’t really foresee consistency in my near future. However, I was really excited to see what the building would look like inside and how the services would be conducted.
I arrived at our appointed meeting time and while waiting for V to appear, gazed around Josefsplatz. The plaza is located in the first district – the heart of Old Vienna, the winter residences of Imperial household and their noblemen – about a 10 minute walk from Hofsburg Palace and Stephansplatz (boasting the St. Stephanskirke). In comparison, its smaller and simpler but no less elaborate. Gilt and baroque architecture are everywhere and the very center of the plaza showcases a horse-mounted statue of Josef II, The Holy Roman Emporer (eldest son of Empress Maria Theresa). The National Library & Museum is also located in the square and the opposite corner houses the former Imperial Court Stables, one part of which is now the Spanish Riding School and the other a modern art gallery. Click here for a panoramic view of Josefsplatz.
After 25 minutes had passed, when the tourists had moved on to other interesting sights, and the parishioners had solemnly filed into St. Augustine’s Kirke, I gave up waiting and entered. From the outside, the church is not very impressive; inside on the other hand was another story. Crystal chandeliers hung low and lined the vaulted ceilings. Behind the alter was an immense and intricate carving of saints while the back of the church was allocated for the choir and organist. On the right of the alter is the Herzgruft (heart crypt) where silver urns which contain the hearts of the Hapsburg family are held while the bodies are kept in the Imperial Crypt. However, the most impressive decoration was a huge marble burial memorial to Archduchess Maria Christine (the fourth daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and elder sister to Maria Antoinette, Empress of France) commissioned by her husband, Prince Albert of Saxony.
The choir sang absolutely angelically and the service was entirely conducted in German but held so many Roman Catholic rituals that (with my 12 years of Catholic school), I was able to basically know where we were in the service. Well, except for when the priest gave a sermon so short, I completely missed it. The entire service lasted only one hour to which I recall thinking, “Wow, pastors back home in The Bahamas would just be warming up!” There were three other things that stood out as well; first, the lack of stained glass windows that I have come to associate with Catholic churches but there were more than enough saintly paintings to gaze at and the interior of the building itself is a work of art. The second outstanding bit was the lack of cushions on the pew seats and kneeling area; then again, perhaps the Augustinian monks believed that a moment of pain while on our knees praying would bring us in closer understanding of the pain He suffered for us. The final unforgettable thought was how incredibly cold the interior was – everyone kept their jackets on and even through my shearling, I shivered slightly. V, her friends, and I laughed, when upon stepping outside, she remarked that it was no cooler out there than it was inside! However, I’m glad I got up (getting to bed at 2am really gave me pause) and took advantage of the opportunity to partake in the service. Truly an unforgettable and beautiful beginning to a new week.