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Votive Church

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Though the Votive Church may share the glorious, vertiginous Gothic architecture of St Stephen's Cathedral, it is in fact some 700 years younger. Designed by Heinrich von Ferstel in a neo-Gothic style in 1856, the church was so elaborate in design that it was not finished until 1879, some twenty six years later.

The church contains the tomb of Count Niklas Salm, an Austrian commander during the Turkish siege of Vienna during 1529, but was built to honour another noble Habsburg. On February 18th, 1852 the Emperor Franz Joseph was attacked by Hungarian separatist János Libényi, who stabbed him in the neck. Only good fortune, a stiff collar, and the assistance of his bodyguard and a passing butcher saved the Emperor's life. Whereas these two heroes of the attempted assassination were eventually knighted, Libenyi was executed for attempted regicide. After the attack it was decided to build the church as a votive offering, or act of thanks, for the rescue of the Emperor. The church was originally intended to be an enormous basilica, and even a new campus modelled on Oxford and Cambridge, but economic problems at the time curtailed this bold and ambitious schemes.

The Votive Church was also one of the first buildings to be built on the Ringstrasse, the wide boulevard built on the site of the old city walls and glacis. As it stood outside the old town the church originally opened without a parish to serve, and instead held masses for troops stationed in a nearby garrison. Today the church is surrounded by dense, historic urbanity, and looks out over Sigmund Freud Square, a public space dedicated to the life and work of one of Vienna's foremost thinkers.

Due to the similarity in style with St Stephen's Church, many visitors to Vienna confuse the two. In order to avoid confusion, just remember this; the Votice Church has two gothic spires, whereas St Stephen's has but one. The 325 foot high towers, at the time of completion some of the tallest structures in Vienna, can be seen from around the city. Being built out of white sandstone, the church is also prone to staining, and has to be frequently cleaned to bring out the original colour. As such, you may find the building coated half in a thick layer of soot, and the other half shining a brilliant white.

Though the Votice Church was heavily damaged during World War Two bombing raids, the building has been sensitively restored to original standards, and has many stand-out features. The main altar, for instance, boasts a gilded reredos featuring Biblical scenes as well as statues of former bishops and holy saints. A neo-Gothic pulpit fashioned from marble comes decorated with an image of Jesus Christ preaching to his followers, while the ancient Sarcophagus of Count Niklas Salm stands in the airy transept. The famous Antwerp Altar, dating from 1530, was formerly stored inside the church, but was moved to a nearby museum in 1986 in order to better safeguard its future.

The design of the Votice Church has proved highly influential down the years, with similar churches in Speyer, Ostend and even Helena, Montana imitating the style and layout of this magnificent house of prayer.


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