Kirche St. Jakob, Heiligenstadt:
Vienna′s Oldest "Village Church"

The 19th district of Vienna, Döbling, has the reputation for being particularly up-market, which is only true for some areas. The neighbourhood of Heiligenstadt has several communal buildings that belong to the city of Vienna - including the legendary Karl-Marx-Hof. This creates a social mix of people and leads to more diversity than one would expect from looking at the villas built into the vineyards in the north of Vienna. Just between the "middle-class" and "upper-class" areas, you will find one of Vienna′s most charming village churches: The Kirche St. Jakob in Heiligenstadt. The building is arranged in an ensemble with the old village school and a highly regarded Heuriger; together, the square that links the three buildings gives you an idea of what a village in Eastern Austria looks like.

I chose the headline "Vienna′s Oldest Village Church" because the Kirche St. Jakob in Heiligenstadt is the oldest church of the city outside of the first district (where the Peterskirche and the Ruprechtskirche compete for this title). The village of Heiligenstadt merged with Vienna only in the 19th century, after centuries of independent development as a wine-growing community.

It was here that Ludwig van Beethoven spent the summer of 1817, in a house right next to the Kirche St. Jakob. Note that the famous "Heiligenstädter Testament", Beethoven′s desperate will and apology for being a prick was written in a different summer and different location. Like most affluent people or artists, Beethoven had the habit of spending each summer outside of Vienna on the nearby countryside. Back to the church itself: St. Jakob is a Romanesque church and dates back to the 12th century. It has a single nave, a presbytery and a choir. On one side of the nave you will find three round windows, on the other only two. The Kirche St. Jakob is not an independent parish church and part of the parish Heiligenstadt - the main church is St. Michael, more or less around the corner.

The Ancient History of St. Jakob Heiligenstadt

A church at this location can be tracked back to the 5th century, but buildings on the site are even older: Under St. Jakob (and possibly in part its foundations) are thoroughly Roman walls that were part of fortifications. They probably date back to the period of Marcus Aurelius (161 to 180 AD). The oldest written record of St. Jakob as a Christian church dates back to 1105; back then, it was part of the parish of St. Martin in Klosterneuburg (Vienna was a village in the swamp at this time). In 1246, St. Jakob became an independent parish; at least since 1263, a hospital existed in association with the church. In the early 14th century, St. Jakob was incorporated into the monastery of Klosterneuburg. It served as a centre for mission and pastoral care, uniting the efforts of a priest, two "co-operators and five mounted chaplains" (quoted from the parish′s chronicles for 1480). All of them were Augustinian Choristers.

In the course of the first Turkish Siege of Vienna (1529), the Kirche St. Jakob was demolished and re-built afterwards. In 1668, the building was renovated. In the course of the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna (1683), both hospital and church were destroyed, but only the church was re-built afterwards. In 1745, Cardinal Prince Sigismund von Kollonitz donated relics of St. Severin to the church. The current tower was built in 1752. The interiors of St. Jakob originate mostly from the 19th century.

They blend in well with the neatly renovated church, but are nothing to shout about. The Kirche St. Jakob is popular for weddings, baptisms and other celebrations. The nice Heurige next door comes in handy for that purpose, too. If you happen to be in the area, I recommend a walk to the vineyards north of the church. Both Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg are in walking distance; Grinzing is even closer. People with an interest in architecture might enjoy a walk through the villa areas of Heiligenstadt.

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Further Reading

Website of the Parish Heiligenstadt

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