Kirche St. Jakob Church, Penzing:
Village Square with Church in Vienna

Few international visitors of Vienna spend time in Vienna′s 14th district of Penzing (if they do, it might be for the prostitutes that flank the outer Mariahilferstrasse and Hütteldorferstrasse); but many international visitors see a great deal of Penzing when they pay a visit to Vienna′s number one sightseeing attraction, the Imperial Palace of Schloss Schönbrunn. If you stand on the Gloriette (or on the hill that it is standing on) and face Schönbrunn, you see most of Penzing just behind the palace. Or rather beyond the Wienzeile creek, to be precise. On you left hand side, you might notice a very plain yellow church in a style that is somewhat unusual for Vienna with all it′s heavy Baroque. This is the Kirche St. Jakob church.

The Kirche St. Jakob is worth a closer look if you happen to be in the area (no prostitutes anywhere near there, though). The neighbourhood is crossed by several roads with heavy traffic, but nevertheless, it has managed to preserve a rural note. The square in front of St. Jakob will give you an idea of what an Eastern Austrian village looks like or looked like a century ago. The origins of the Kirche St. Jakob date back to the 13th century. Back then, the Wien river was untrained and frequently caused severe floods.

Medieval Origins of St. Jakob in Penzing

The local landlord of today′s Penzing, a nobleman called Rüdiger von Zoller, endowed the construction of a church on a patch of land that was elevated from the creek and thus safe from being flooded. This church was built after 1267 and elevated to a proper parish church in 1324. The community around St. Jakob grew and so did the church: It was repeatedly extended and modernised. Among other things, this included the merging of two naves into one.

Like most towns and villages around Vienna, all settlements in today′s Penzing were essentially flattened in the course of the Turkish Sieges (1529 and then once again in 1683). The church St. Jakob suffered badly from these experiences. Only in 1758 the church was fully restored and even extended by orders of Empress Maria Theresia. She also endowed new Rococo interiors. The following centuries were fairly calm for St. Jakob until WWII; in spring of 1945, the Red Army bombed the tower of St. Jakob and destroyed its roof - alongside with all windows and the roof of the nave. Provisory roofs were replaced by proper ones only in the 1980ies.

From the outside, the church looks plain and unspectacular. However, the interiors with the Gothic vaulted ceiling and other ancient elements reveal that this church is historically significant. St. Jakob is the oldest church of the district and was the heart of a community for centuries - until Vienna had finally grown around it in the late 19th century.

Note the main altar and the organ from 1766, funded by Maria Theresia′s endowment. The two side-altars were added in the early, the pulpit in the late 19th century. The oldest visible elements inside the church are pillars from the 15th century. Note also frescoes from 1720 and a Gothic shrine (Lichtsäule) outside of St. Jakob. There are few attractions nearby; the Technisches Museum is in walking distance; so is the Palais Cumberland; Westbahnhof is not far, either,

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Further Reading

Website of the Parish in Penzing

German Wikipedia on St. Jakob in Penzing (with pics)