And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

tirsdag 30. januar 2024

The moon over Saint Rupert's Church

In the middle of January, I spent ten days in Vienna as part of a work-stay organized by the project where I am currently working as a postdoctoral researcher. The days in Vienna were quite intense, as there were a lot of different work-related tasks that needed my attention, and so there were only a few times I could really indulge in the many different sights of the city. With what time I had, however, I still managed to take in quite a lot of things big and small, and I hope to delve deeper into some of them in future blogposts. 

One of the highlights for me was the Church of Saint Rupert of Salzburg, das Ruprechtskirche, which is situated close by the Danube canal on the northern edge of the old city centre, the so-called Ring, where we were staying. The church is dedicated to the patron saint of Salzburg, the seventh-century bishop Rupert, who is also considered to be its founder. In the Later Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of salt miners and salt traders, and in art he is frequently depicted holding a salt cellar. Saint Rupert's Church in Vienna is believed to have been built close to where the salt traders had their stalls and headquarters during the medieval period. 

The Church of Saint Rupert became something of an obsession of mine during my days in Vienna. Partly, this obsession stems from my constant fascination with saints, and since I knew very little about Saint Rupert prior to my arrival in Austria, the tantalizing opportunity to learn more was impossible to resist. Another part of the obsession came from the fact that the church is believed to be the earliest church in Vienna - dated to the eighth century - and, more importantly, that part of the church retains some elements from the twelfth century, namely the tower and the northern wall. Despite these objectively good reasons for my fascination with the building, I think one aspect that was just as important was the rather ludicrous feeling of ownership that came from the chance act of stumbling across it as a friend and I were wending our way through the streets in search of a good place to eat. This happened on the first day, just shortly after the hotel check-in, and as I had not done much to prepare for my trip by reading up on Vienna's history, the sudden appearance of a church with unmistakably Romanesque elements - my favourite architectural style - was both arresting and exciting. 

Since the church is closed most days, except for Fridays and special occasions, I had to wait a full working week before being able to see the inside of the building. Although I was assured by another friend that the interior was much less interesting than the exterior, I could not help feeling a certain yearning to get inside, not because I expected the interior to be full of exciting details, but because I steadily built it up in my head as a unique chance to see something medieval in a city whose remaining architecture is mostly eighteenth-century and later. 

I did eventually get inside, and I managed to go twice. And while the church does not hold many exciting details, there turned out to be plenty of them to explore. For the present blogpost, however, the interior will have to wait, and I will instead provide you with some examples of the kind of pull that this building exerted on me, as I walked past it a few times during January afternoons under a waxing moon. In the combined light of the city and the moon, the Church of Saint Rupert acquired an aura of peace and stability, as of time having turned to stone, and it lay like a promise in the folds of city, in marked contrast to some of the more ostentatious buildings that have become famous hallmarks of Vienna. I have always preferred the Romanesque simplicity to the exorbitant Baroque, and although I also appreciate the latter in many of its forms, the different space offered by the Romanesque is always preferable to me - and I say this, knowing full well that Romanesque churches and cathedrals in their original state would have been both ostentatious and gaudy, and quite different from their current surviving forms. In short, the Church of Saint Rupert became something of a point of orientation for me during my days in Vienna, and I treasure the memories of its beauty and gravitas.  

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