Kirche St. Barbara, Vienna:
Church of the Greek-Ukrainian Catholics

The Church of St. Barbara is the spiritual centre of the small Greek-Ukrainian-Catholic community in Vienna. In my opinion, it is also the ugliest (probably the only genuinely ugly) church in the historic heart of Vienna. The community dates back to the days when the Habsburg Empire extended far into today′s Ukraine; the Catholic subcategory of the Ukrainian-Catholics originates from Galicia and Lodomeria and is rooted in the ethnic group of "Ruthenians" (an artificial term relating to Western Ukrainians).

The community is a bit odd from a conventional, Roman-Catholic point of view: They claim to be of Catholic faith, but the liturgy used is Byzantine, the language used for services is a scholarly Slavonic language used generally for religious communication in the Orthodox tradition. The community in Vienna has approximately 1,500 members; it is the biggest one in Austria, but there are some 5,000 Ukrainian-Catholics in all of Austria (with increasing numbers due to migration).

The nominal head of the Vienna community is (the Roman Catholic) Cardinal of Vienna, currently Christoph Schönborn. The first time that Ukrainian Catholics built a church in Vienna was after the release of the Toleranzpatent, an act by Emperor Joseph II in the late 18th century. It granted the right to build churches in Austria to non-Catholic communities (apparently this included Ukrainian-Catholics), provided that the building could not be recognised as a church from the outside.

History of St. Barbara in Vienna: Ukrainian-Catholics in Austria

In 1772, Emperor Joseph II gave an abandoned Catholic church to the community - dedicated to St. Barbara. Therefore, I guess the whole not-to-be-recognisable policy wasn′t taken too seriously in the case of the Ukrainian-Catholics (whereas with Orthodox and Protestant churches it was, same as with synagogues). The original church of St. Barbara had been built by the Jesuite Order, which had (and now has again) its monastery around the corner. The Jesuite Order had been dissolved by Joseph II.

In the history records that I found, there was little information contained on the construction of the church. I think that it was remodelled a few times, as it looks rather strange in terms of styles. This is partly due to the combination of Roman Catholic and Orthodox elements, partly because of the tacky-looking, probably mostly 19th century interiors. The most valuable thing in the interiors is probably a set of icons from the 7th century. A copy of the Byzantine Imperial crown is kept at the church, but not on display for the general public.

Attractions nearby are numerous; walking down Rotenturmstraße, you will get to the Kammeroper, the Greek Orthodox Church and the Griechenkirche St. Georg and a bit further down the Kornhäuselturm. In the other direction, you will find the Kirche St. Barbara, the Dominikanerkirche, the Jesuite Church and the Alte Aula as well as the Heiligenkreuzerhof with the Bernardiskapelle. The Postsparkasse and the Kriegsministerium are not far, nor the Urania or the Museum für Angewandte Kunst.

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Further Reading

Official Website of the Greek-Ukrainian Catholic Church St. Barbara, Vienna

Pictures of the Kirche St. Barbara, Vienna