Episode 307 – A Plague Church and A Pauper’s Grave

Way back in 1713, a plague epidemic raged through Vienna that killed more than 8000 people. As was common in those years, when the plague was finally over the credit was given to God (who somehow wasn’t blamed for it initially) and a grand gesture of thanks was needed.

In Vienna, that was the building of a grand church, dedicated to St. Charles Boromeo, patron saint of plague sufferers and (coincidentally?) the patron saint of the reigning emperor, Charles VI. That church is the magnificent Karlskirche (Charles Church) that we explored today.

Even as seen from a distance through the treetops, it is apparent the church is going to be something special. When we reached the pond in front of it, it
confirmed that impression – especially with those spiral carved columns!
Note the gilded imperial eagles topping the columns.

Building of the church spanned 20 years, from 1717-1737, and was built using money contributed by all of the many countries the Hapsburgs ruled at that time, the Emperor having decided that it would be a votive church for the whole empire (not just Austria). I have no idea whether any of those other countries thought that was fair (I’m guessing they did NOT), but the result was a beautiful church in which people worshiped for centuries.

We were able to walk around the sanctuary, walk up the spiral staircase to the organ and the viewing platform, and then ascend a temporary lift into the dome itself.

The original church was supposed to be just white and gold, but when the architect died and his son took over, the style changed from High Baroque to Rococo, and more colour and frescoes were added.
As always in these churches, the design and light is intended to draw the eyes up – heavenward.

It’s not often we get to go directly into the organ loft of a church. This pipe organ was much smaller than many we’ve seen, but quite ornate.

From the organ level we could look down into the sanctuary and see how the rows of pews were built curved to match the round chapel shape, and the scaffolding holding the lift. We could also look up into the dome, which we’d see much more closely later.

A few more stairs up from the organ level, we got our first panoramic view over Vienna’s inner city.

The outdoor platform also got us up close to the imperial eagles, and the pillars with the story of St. Charles Boromeo’s life spiralling up their lengths.
Up the lift to our highest viewpoint, inside the dome. Being up in the scaffolding reminded me of being in the Royal Naval Academy in 2017, when Ted and I donned hardhats to take a tour of the ceiling restoration work. Looking down into the sanctuary reinforces just how tall this church is! (70 meters/229.7 feet on the exterior)
It is a unique experience being up close to the dome frescoes. Top right: a winged Saint Elizabeth of Portugal distributing alms to the poor. Bottom: up-close detail of the gilded accents that from ground level just look like golden highlights.
We also got a much closer look at the centre of the dome, with its depiction of the Holy Spirit descending, symbolized by a dove.

After touring the church, we continued on for a walk around yet another gorgeous block within Vienna’s “Innenstadt” (inner city), this time the area called Karlsplatz, which is home to the Vienna Technical University (TU), the Albertina Modern art museum, and the Musikverein Wien (Vienna Music Society) concert hall – the latter two top and bottom, respectively, in Ted’s photos below.

Statue of Johannes Brahms in Karlsplatz.
The sign at the top indicates that the Technical College (second photo) was built under the direction of Emperor Franz Josef I in 1908. The sign second from the bottom commemorates the fact that both Josef and Johann Strauss studied here at the Imperial Royal Polytechnical Institute before moving on to careers in music. The bottom sign verifies that the site on which the building stands was until 1789 the site of the Paupers’ Graveyard in Vienna, in which Vivaldi was interred in 1741.

Despite the fact that we got a late start today because it rained all morning, we still had a wonderful day – and I managed to get a load of bedding washed too!


  1. Enjoying your descriptions of some of the highlights in Vienna…a city that I am eager to visit one day. But to live there for a few weeks is the best way to fully appreciate the culture in Vienna. I imagine that the food is also a great temptation! Thanks….

    Liked by 1 person

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