Kalvarienbergkirche, Vienna:
Calvary Mount Church in Hernals

As a parish, Hernals has existed a long time before it became part of a new district of Vienna and gave its name to it in the 19th century. It probably dates back to the 13th century, the oldest record dates back to 1301 - a document referring to a church dedicated to St. Bartholomew. Nearby the church, there was a small castle which became an important centre of the Austrian reformation in the 16th century. Under the rule of Emperor Mathias in the early 17th century, privileges of religious minorities were temporarily increased and the Hernals parish church became a reformed, evangelical church.

Mathias′ successor to the throne, Ferdinand II, ended this and transferred the Hernals parish church under direct control of the cathedral of St. Stephan and thus back into Catholic hands in 1625. In the spirit of the counter-reformation and its appreciation of theme-parkish attractions, a Calvary Mount was built between 1709 and 1714, funded mostly by private donations. The mount was shaped like a U with an entrance and an exit area and a crucifix group in its centre.

Both entrance and exit area were decorated with religious symbols and "educational" depictions of the passion of Christ. The central area also contained a small chapel, which was extended between 1766 and 1769, when the crowds of pilgrims had become too many to be handled by the original facility. The new "chapel" was rather a church - supplemented with inns, souvenir shops and candle companies. Pilgrim′s business as usual.

Kalvarienbergkirche in Vienna today

In 1892, a new chapter in the history of the Kalvarienbergkirche was started: The church was extended and modernised. The original Calvary Mount was dismantled and re-built in a different shape, the crucifix group was covered by a new chapel with cupola and the main nave of the Kalvarienbergkirche itself was enlarged towards the rear end. Of the Baroque building, only the front part was preserved. Things went worse in the course of WWII, when a bomb fell through the roof of the church and destroyed essentially all of the interiors. The church was re-furbished until 1948, but with mostly new interiors.

An exception is the "Turkish Madonna" ("Türkenmadonna"), a statue of the Virgin Mary that - at least according to legend - was found in the tent of the Sultan after the Turkish defeat in the course of the Second Siege of Vienna in 1683. Critical and historically aware readers might note that the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire didn′t participate personally in the Second Siege, but sent his Vizier Kara Mustafa instead. Anyway, the Türkenmadonna contains bullets and damages that are said to originate from maltreatment of the Turks.

Another claim to fame for the Kalvarienbergkirche is that it was here that Franz Schubert heard the last piece of music before his death in 1828 - the Latin Requiem of his brother Ferdinand. For more on the many churches of Vienna that have some kind of relationship to Franz Schubert, see my article on the Pfarrkirche Lichtental, which claims to be "the Schubertkirche". In 2000, the Kalvarienbergkirche was renovated and now looks nice and shiny again. Attractions nearby are rather sparse - have a look at my general introduction to Hernals for further information.

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Further Reading

Official Website of the Kalvarienbergkirche

Wikipedia on Hernals, the 17th district of Vienna