• Deborah Kade

Salzburg Cathedral Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg Cathedral is the seventeenth-century Baroque cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Salzburg in the city of Salzburg, Austria, dedicated to Saint Rupert and Saint Vergilius. Saint Rupert founded the church in 774 on the remnants of a Roman town, the cathedral was rebuilt in 1181 after a fire.

When I think of this cathedral, I am reminded of a story that I will share later on. Let's first start with a little history of the cathedral.

"Each year, more than two million people visit the city’s ecclesiastical center where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized and later played some of his most popular tunes to church goers.

Salzburg’s cathedral is a unique landmark in the city. Gracefully crowned by a bulbous copper dome and twin spires, the Salzburg Cathedral (“Dom zu Salzburg” in German) stands out as a masterpiece of early baroque art. The church, in the heart of the historic center, has been hit by no less than ten fires and been entirely rebuilt three times over the centuries. It bears witness to the power of Salzburg’s archbishops until today."

The very first cathedral on the site dates back to 774. Built by Saint Virgil, an Irish priest with unusually modern views for his time (he believed that the earth was round, which resulted in a series of complaints to the Pope). Less than 70 years after its construction, the cathedral experienced its first fire, caused by a lightning strike.

In 1598, after the cathedral had been expanded with two towers and a crypt, another blaze almost destroyed it. Prince-archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, a fan of modern Italian Baroque architecture, halfheartedly tried to restore it, but soon ordered it demolished, much to the anger of the inhabitants of Salzburg. Raitenau hired Italian artist Vincenzo Scamozzi to build an entirely new cathedral. The plans never saw the light of day though as the Prince-Archbishop was soon after overthrown and died behind bars. The new prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems hired Italian architect Santino Solari who altered Scamozzi’s plans. The new cathedral was consecrated in 1628 with the towers being completed about 40 years later.

During World War II, the Salzburg Cathedral was destroyed once again. A bomb crashed through the central dome and shattered it in pieces. The cathedral as we know it today was completed in 1959."

Along the balustrade above the entrance are statues of the four evangelists, Saint Mathew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John who represent the salvation offered through their preaching. The pediments over the three windows behind the evangelists depict a lion and an ibex, the animals depicted in the coats of arms above. Above the center window, a golden crown aligns with the Marian column in the Domplatz. The top section tympanum bears the arms of the builders of the cathedral, Markus Sittikus and Paris Londron. The figure group on the pediment represents the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor, showing Christ as Salvator Mundi , with Moses holding the tablets on the left and the prophet Elijah to the right. The three statues were created in 1660 by Tommaso di Garona, the mason who built the Residenz Fountain.

At the cathedral’s façade: The gates show the three divine virtues Faith, Love and Hope while the dates above them (774, 1628, 1959) are reminders of the three times the cathedral was consecrated. You will also notice four huge statues in front of the main entrance: They represent the apostles Peter and Paul (with keys and sword) and the two patron saints Virgil (who built the very first cathedral) and Rupert, the patron saint of Salzburg.

The body of the church is made of dark grey stone with ornamentation and façade of bright Untersberg marble. The richly decorated façade is framed by two towers and topped by a curved gable. The north tower houses an old oven used for baking communion bread. The façade is divided into three horizontal sections. The lower section has three high round arches or portals that provide access to three bronze doors. The portals are flanked by four large sculpted figures representing the diocesan and cathedral patrons. Mitred figures of Saint Rupert holding a salt barrel and Saint Virgilius holding a church were created c. 1660 by Bartholomäus van Opstal and flank figures of Saint Peter holding keys and Saint Paul holding a sword, sculpted c. 1697 by Bernhard Michael Mandl, who also created all the pedestals. The bases bear the arms of the Prince Archbishop Guidobald von Thun and Prince Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun.

The three bronze gates inside the portals date from 1957 and 1958 and represent the three divine virtues (Göttliche Tugenden) of faith, hope, and love. The Tor des Glaubens (gate of faith) on the left was created by Toni Schneider-Manzell (1911-1996), the center Tor der Liebe (gate of love) was created by Giacomo Manzù (1908-1991), and the Tor der Hoffnung (gate of hope) on the right was created by Ewald Mataré (1887-1965)

The baptismal font, dating back to the early 1300s', is where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized on January 28, 1756, the day after his birth. Later he regularly played the “Hoforgel,” one of five organs in the cathedral. Legend has it, Joseph Mohr, the composer of “Silent Night,” was baptized at the same font as the composer.

Main nave

The organ that is in use for services today was built in 1988, but the old organ of the Salzburger Dom is still essentially the same as the one built by the famous organ builder Josef Christoph Egedacher in 1703. From June to September you can attend an organ recital every Wednesday and Saturday at 11:15 AM. The recital lasts for about one hour.

"After the completion of the two western ‘Italian’ pipe organs, Salzburg Cathedral now has a total of five independent organs, a situation tha is one of a kind north of the Alps. As in Mozart’s times, instrumental music can be performed in the dome galleries – Mozart usually played on the south-eastern pipe organ, the ‘Hoforgel’ (halo organ) – and the old masters’ polychoral works can be performed as originally intended. 

Along with the ‘Grosser Domorgel’ (large cathedral organ) in the west gallery of the cathedral, which is an indispensable instrument of excellent quality for the entire organ ensemble, Salzburg Cathedral provides a unique location – at least in Europe – for a wide range of music. ‘Wandern in der Orgellandschaft im Salzburger Dom’ (Wandering through the organ landscape of Salzburg Cathedral) gives organists and listeners a wonderful experience. This instrumental diversity is used as a musical framework for church services as well as for concerts."

At 232 feet (71 meters) high, the central dome is probably the most impressive feature of the Salzburg Cathedral. It displays 16 frescos in two rows, each depicting a scene from the Old Testament. The works are connected to those on the cathedral’s nave, all painted by the same Italian artists, Donato Mascagni and Ignazio Solari.

Ceiling and wall features

At 3 p.m. sharp, all seven cathedral bells ring together for a couple minutes. They all have names ranging from Barbara (the smallest) to Salvator (the biggest). The latter weighs 31,429 pounds (14,256 kilograms) and is the biggest (and heaviest) bell in Austria after the “Pummerin” at St. Stephan’s in Vienna. The oldest bells in the cathedral are the Maria and the Virgil, both cast in 1628. On September 24, 1961, the cathedral added five new bells, Salvator, Rupertus, Josef, Leonhard and Barbara.

"The cathedral bells were first mentioned in writing in 1127 due to a fire that was initiated by a failed bell casting in the city. The bells that were to be cast were intended for the cathedral.

During another fire in 1312, all the cathedral bells melted, according to historians, and, during a cathedral fire in 1598: “All six bells melted in the heat.” In 1628, Wolfgang II and his son, Johann Neidhart cast five new bells, which were consecrated during the consecration of the new cathedral. Including a small bell from the year 1603, there were now six bells; one more was added in 1746. This peal of seven bells had a total weight of 10,640 kg and rang until 1917. There was a confiscation of three bells during the First World War. For the 300th anniversary of the consecration of the cathedral in 1928, the bell collection was again returned to a total of seven bells, but in 1942, all new bells were again confiscated for the war. The bells remained in the cathedral, two of which still ring in the cathedral today as part of the total peal. These two bells are among the most valuable percussion instruments of their time.

The clappers are held against the sound bow while the bells are raised, then released sequentially to give a clean start to the ringing. At the end they are successively caught again by the mechanism to silence the bells."

Whenever we go into a church, I wander around and take pictures and Michael usually goes to the first pew to pray. About twenty minutes into taking my pictures, Michael walks up to me and says, "Come and sit down with me." Since he never does this, I turned to him and asked what was going on. He said, "Please don't question. I need you to sit down with me." After I sat down, he told me to lift my feet off the floor and to not scream, as we were in a church. As you can imagine, that did not calm me!! He had told me that he saw a rat come out of the wall by the sacristy and it was headed our way. He knows I am deathly afraid of anything in the rodent family, especially rats. Well, we watched this rat, which was as big as my forearm, run right past us down the center aisle toward the front doors. At that time, a tour group was entering the church and the rat decided to run all over the ladies' feet to get out the front door. Michael didn't have to worry about me screaming as these ladies took care of it for me.

This picture was taken with my telephoto lens extended to the end.

Entrance to the cathedral and crypt is still free though there are plans to start charging.

View of Salzburg and some of their church steeples. The Hohensalzburg Fortress sits atop the Festungsberg. Erected at the request of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg with a length of 820 feet (250 meters) and a width of 490 feet (150 meters), it is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.


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