Votivkirche Church, Vienna

The Park in front of Votivkirche, Vienna, in 1905

If you stroll along the Ringstraße that embraces Vienna′s first district (the historical old town or Innere Stadt), one of the most significant buildings that you will come across is the neo-Gothic Votivkirche Church between the University and the Schottentor, not far from the Stock Exchange.

The two towers are the most prominent feature of the Votivkirche.

The Votivkirche is a characteristic building with two towers, covered with finely carved masonry that sits in the district of Alsergrund and is generally considered to be among the most significant neo-Gothic sacral buildings in the World - since I dislike both unexplainable superlatives and neo-Gothic architecture, I do not approve this claim. Nevertheless, the Votivkirche undergoes a refurbishment to become nice and shiny and thus is worth a closer look. Beyond that, the story around its foundation is an interesting testimony of 19th century Imperial life in Vienna.

When the young Emperor Franz Joseph I strolled around the roads of Vienna one day in February 1853, a similarly young tailor called Janos Libenyi tried to stab him. As the name implies, Libenyi was not a German-speaking Austrian (he was Hungarian) and in the years that followed the revolution of 1848, the many nations that lived within the Austrian Empire were anything but impressed by Franz Joseph and his reactionary policy of suppressing citizen rights and liberal ideals.

Nonetheless, the attempted assassination failed and Libenyi was later sentenced to death. For the Habsburgs, it was very important to emphasize the Catholic identity as the uniting force between the different nations to which their citizens belonged - especially with the uprising Nationalist ideas in mind.

Another Gothic attraction for Vienna

Therefore, following the assault, the brother of Franz Joseph I, Archduke Maximilian who later headed off to Mexico where he accepted the Mexican crown from the French as the Emperor of Mexico and was shot by the Mexicans who didn′t give a shit about France OR Austria, announced a fundraising campaign. Maximilian collected money for a "Votivegabe" - a small gift traditionally offered by somebody on a pilgrimage after being cured from some disease or rescued from some danger. To see some very nice Votive -gifts, check out the basilica of Mariazell.

Emperor Franz Joseph I, who sadly failed to be assassinated.

Anyway, Maximilian′s Votive gift was an entire church: A new basilica for Vienna that was meant to commemorate the attack on the emperor and that was meant to be a church for all the (Catholic) Nations of the Austrian Empire. Maximilian did pretty well: some 300,000 Viennese followed his request and donated money. When the cash had been put together, an international competition for architecture took place in 1854.

Some 76 projects were submitted by architects from all over Europe, and the architect Franz Ferstel won at the age of 26 - you see, the story of the Votivkirche Church is a story of young people. Emperor Franz Joseph himself started the construction work in an opening ceremony in 1856, with Cardinal Rauscher and 80 archbishops and bishops to watch or assist him. The one thing Franz Joseph I was good in was pompous ceremonies.

Construction of the Votivkirche Church

Building the Votivkirche took significantly longer than raising the money for it: Over a period of more than 20 years, the foundations were laid, the main nave erected, the side chapels build and the roof constructed. With the "chopped off" (=incomplete) tower of Stephansdom Cathedral in mind, Franz Ferstel put particular much attention to the construction of the two towers.

They are the most obvious features of the Votivkirche - a larger sum donated by the City of Vienna assured the completion of the towers, only ten years after the construction had started. On the 24th of April 1879, the Votivkirche was finally opened upon the occasion of the silver anniversary (25 years of marriage) of Franz Joseph I and his wife Empress Elisabeth. The Empress was stabbed and killed by an Italian anarchist some 20 years later. No church for that one.

back to "vienna travel guide"


Vienna by District

District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) -  Ringstraße - Surroundings

Further Reading

Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information

Official Website of the Votivkirche (German)

Wikipedia knows a lot about the Votivkirche