Salzburg – the city of music and churches, love at first sight. For long centuries, the seat of prince-archbishops – the rulers who concentrated both the cleric and secular power in their hands. At the beginning of the 19th century, this ecclesiastical political unit was the second largest one after Vatican City State.
The most famous views of Salzburg show Hohensalzburg Fortress dominating above numerous roofs and towers. However, you can also see another important building with a dome and two angular towers. This is the Salzburg Cathedral dedicated to Saint Rupert and Saint Vergilius.
History in Three Years
At the entrance, you can see the number 774. This is the year when the very first church was consecrated at this site. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by a fire in the 12th century.
So they built a new enlarged, expanded and more beautiful church. Some years later, it was also destroyed. Prince-Bishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau ordered to pull down the damaged building together with 55 other houses. A huge space for a new, magnificent sanctuary was created. Construction was completed by Dietrich’s successor Mark Sittikus. The new church was consecrated in 1628 by Paris von Lodron during a pompous celebration which took seven days. All citizens attended the procession carrying St Rupert’s relics which are now saved in the cathedral.
The church was damaged during World War II as well. Although it was hit by a single bomb only, the dome collapsed and the building needed a restoration. But after the war, there was both material and labour shortage. The restoration of the dome took 15 years. The cathedral was re-consecrated in 1959.
The turbulent history of the destruction and restoration of the Salzburg Cathedral actually explains why you can see the three years 774, 1628 and 1959 near the main entrance.
Four over-sized sculptures decorate the entrance. St Peter lifts the keys from Heaven’s gate in his hand while St Paul supports himself with a long sword. The other two statues are the main saint patrons of the cathedral. Look at the pedestals and you will know who is who. A model of the church is depicted on St Vergilius’ pedestal. On the other pedestal, you can see a keg of salt. According to a legend, Rupert struck a rock with his bishop’s staff and discovered salty springs – the base of the wealth of the bishops of Salzburg.
The three gates stand for Faith, Love and Hope. Is it just coincidence that the middle gate – the one for Love – is a little bit larger?
Inside the Sanctuary
The moment you enter the basilica, you will be astonished by the huge space. The central nave is 101 m long. 3,000 is the ideal number of people in the church but they said it may be visited even by 10,000!
Standing under the dome, which is 71 m high, you will feel like a tiny particle in the universe overwhelmed with humbleness against God, skilfulness of old masters or the majesty of the whole building. The view is amazing. Personally, I was very impressed by the ceiling.
As a child, I was given a toy kaleidoscope once. Now, I felt like squinting again inside that instrument. The wall paintings looked like coloured pieces of glass put into the rich stucco decoration. I didn‘t mind at all that I couldn’t see the depicted scenes from the Old Testament on the paintings properly. Everything was creating a regular symmetrical pattern. I only felt sorry that it wasn’t a real kaleidoscope so I couldn’t rotate it to put the pictures in motion.
The side chapels are dedicated to different saints, whose relics are placed behind a lattice under the altar. People come to pray to St Martin, St Anna, St Sebastian and other martyrs.
The main altar depicts the Resurrection of Jesus. Above the painting, you can see again both saint patrons of the church and three angels with a gilded cross in their hands.
Additionally, the cathedral is extraordinary because it possesses seven organs! The grand organ, four other ones in the four piers of the dome, one basso continuo and one portable organ. The biggest one is above the main entrance. Again, you can see St Rupert and St Vergilius and some angels playing different musical instruments. Every organ has its own organist. However, it is said that is not possible to play all seven organs at the same time because they have different sounds and positions. What a pity! By the way, Mozart regularly played the south-eastern pipe organ.
Dance of Death in the Crypt
In the crypt, you will find the tombs of Salzburg archbishops. But there is also the mysterious installation Vanitas made by French sculptor Christian Boltanski. It is a shadow play with twelve metal figures mounted on a wall and illuminated by candles. They cast shadows which are gently moving and trembling.
What’s more, there is the angel of death as well circulating in a never-ending circle. It perfectly matches the atmosphere of the crypt and provokes you to think about the words of the author of this artwork: People are capable of many things but they cannot turn back the flow of time. God is the Lord of time…
The Famous Baptismal Font
Every church should have a baptismal font. The one in the Salzburg Cathedral comes from the first half of the 14th century. The bronze lions are even older. The sculptor had to use his fantasy because at that time people hadn’t known yet exactly how a real lion looked like. On January 28th, 1756, Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart were standing at this baptismal font.
Three children were born during the first three years of their marriage but not one of them lived for more than six months. In 1751, a healthy viable girl was born, they called her Nannerl. Then again, two babies died. The mother was exhausted and she knew that a new pregnancy could be dangerous to her life. However, she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. The parents hurried up to the cathedral to baptize their child on the day after his birth. The son was named after his grandfather – Wolfgang. Nobody thought that he would become one of the greatest musical geniuses. Later on, Mozart composed several masses and religious compositions for this basilica.
17 years later, Joseph Mohr was baptized at the same font in the Salzburg Cathedral. He wrote the words to the Christmas carol Silent Night. You can read the story of this famous Christmas song in our blog here: Silent Night – A Song with a Strong Message.
There are not only spectacular paintings, sculptures and other decorations in this church. You can also find a very discreet lid on the stone floor. Here, crumbs of holly hosts, the rest of the mass wine and other holly waste find its direct way into the earth…
More interesting information about the Salzburg Cathedral will follow in the second part of the article – soon on the blog!
How to Visit:
The Salzburg Cathedral is situated literally in the heart of the old town and is very easy to find.
Opening hours: here
Admission to the cathedral is free, donations are welcome.
More information about Salzburg on Salzburg.info
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri