Kirche am Hof, Vienna:
Deathbed of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation

The Kirche am Hof is a Gothic church in the first district of Vienna and has a Baroque facade which I mistook for a long time as being Classicist. The Kirche am Hof is in a very prominent location, at the historic Am Hof Square and not far from the Judenplatz. As a centre in Medieval Vienna, the Am Hof Square was the site of the first palace of the Babenberg counts (the house that ruled the province of Austria before the Habsburgs took over - see my history of Austria for details). Today, the Kirche am Hof is the main church of the Croatian community in Vienna.

The Kirche am Hof was built between 1386 and 1403 by the Carmelite Order. The church has three main naves, is what you call in German a "Hallenkirche" ("hall church", a style typical for late Gothic) and replaced the previous court chapel of the Babenberg palace. Note that as a convent church of a mendicant order, the Kirche am Hof has no bell tower (nor any other towe). In 1554, the Kirche am Hof was given to the Jesuite Order. In 1662, the widow of Emperor Ferdinand III, Eleonore von Gonzaga, gave orders to re-model the fašade of the church.

This was done in early Baroque style and gave rise to the "Altane", a noteworthy balcony-like extension that incorporates the entire entrance area. The central parts of the Kirche am Hof were preserved in their original Gothic style, which is somewhat confusing if you see the building from Steindlgasse or the Am Hof Square - it looks fundamentally different. After the dissolution of the Jesuites in the Habsburg lands in 1773, the Kirche am Hof was made a Garnisonskirche (military church).

Important Announcement from the Kirche am Hof

The claim to fame for the Kirche am Hof dates back to 1804 and is the reason for the headline of this article: Napoleonic France caused a lot of pressure on the old Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, so that Emperor Franz II had to "dissolve" it - he gave up his role as the German Emperor. Instead, he was proclaimed as the "Emperor of Austria" (Kaiserreich Östrreich) and thereby, founded his own little empire.

This was proclaimed by a herald from the altare-balcony-thing that I have mentioned above. However, there are several versions of what was actually going on; the legal steps towards dissolution of one and proclamation of another Empire was done by less impressive written acts in 1804 and another one in 1806. The role (if any) of the herald and the Kirche am Hof can be disputed.

Albrechtsaltar from Kirche am Hof: Now in Klosterneuburg

The most important showpiece of the Kirche am Hof would be the "Albrechtsaltar", an altar that dates back to approximately 1437 - were it still to be found there. In fact, it is now in the Sebastianikapelle of the monastery in Klosterneuburg. The altar was a donation by Oswald Oberndorffer and is divided into an inside for holidays and an outside for normal days. The inside depicts the nine chapters of angels and seven chapters of saints; the outside depicts scenes from the history of the Carmelite Order.

After the dissolution of the Jesuites, the altar was sawn into pieces and sold to the monastery of Klosterneuburg. There the individual parts were exhibited in the museum until 1962. In the following years, the pieces were put together again, renovated and taken to the monastery′s church. It is considered to be one of the most important examples of Gothic Realism in Austria.

Attractions nearby the Kirche am Hof include the Schottenstift, Palais Kinsky, Palais Harrach, Palais Ferstel and the BA-CA-Kunstforum on the Freyung. Further down the square, you will get to the old arsenal of Vienna. From there, you can go to the Judenplatz with the museum on the Medieval Jewish community of Vienna, the Böhmische Hofkanzlei and the Altes Rathaus.

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Further Reading

German Wikipedia on the Kirche am Hof

Planet Vienna on the Kirche am Hof