Description of Karlskirche
Karlskirche is a Roman Catholic Church devoted to
Saint Karl or Saint Charles. Its construction started in 1713 under
orders of Charles VI, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The country
was devastated by the great plague epidemic that also became the
last such outbreak in the European history. The church was dedicated
to patron saint of the monarch, Saint Charles Borromeo cardinal
archbishop of Milan, who was believed to be a healer of the victims
of the plague. Karlskirche is located on the south side of
Karlsplatz, which is close to the city center, and is one of the
most important baroque churches north of the Alps and one of
History of Karlskirche
On October 22, 1713, during the
last great plague epidemic that also struck Vienna, Emperor Karl VI.
to have a church built in St. Stephen's Cathedral. It should be
dedicated to his namesake, Karl Borromäus, who is also considered a
saint of plague. The plague was to be ended by the imperial promise.
The plague was extinguished in 1714, and Emperor Charles VI.
tendered an architectural competition for the building.
Karlskirche belongs to the type of votive churches, as the golden
letters under the front triangular gable according to Psalm XXI
indicate: "Vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium deum." (I
fulfilled my vows before the eyes of the godly.)
a votive plate with a Latin inscription was placed over the portal,
with which Charles VI. among the happy survivors was:
has the venerable Karl Borromeo,
the sublime emperor Charles VI,
Catholic and apostolic king,
fulfills the vow,
of which he is for the health of the people
guilty in 1713
and he partaken in the same year
Since Karlsplatz was restored as an ensemble at the end of the
1980s, the Karlskirche has not only functioned through its dome and
the two flanking relief columns, but also as an architectural
counterweight to the buildings of the Musikverein and the Technical
From 1783 to 1918 the church
was the patron saint parish church of the emperor and has been cared
for by the Crusaders with the Red Star from Prague since 1738. Only
from 1959 to 1976 was the Premonstratensians taking care of her from
Geras Abbey, and from 1989 to 2000, where the administration was
taken over by the personal prelature Opus Dei, there were temporary
interruptions. It is also the seat of the Catholic university
community of the nearby TU Vienna, which is still headed by Opus
The parish of St. Karl Borromeo, founded in 1783, was
dissolved on December 31, 2016 and the parish area of the parish
was added to the Good News. Since January 1, 2017, the Karlskirche
is a rector's church, which is still looked after by the Kreuzherren
with the Red Star. 
In 2011 Ricardo Alejandro Luna took
over the direction and reconstruction of church music in the
Karlskirche Vienna and was appointed Kapellmeister and cantor. In
2014 he founded the choir of the Karlskirche, which in February 2018
took part in the musical arrangement of the liturgy of the Holy Mass
with Pope Francis as part of his first tour together with the schola
of the Sistine Chapel in St. Peter's Basilica. This high mass was
broadcast worldwide on television as well as on the Internet.
Together with the choir of the diocese of Terni-Narni-Amelia, Luna
also designed the television service broadcast by Rai 1 in the
cathedral of Terni. In 2015, Luna received a commission from the
Karlskirche for a fanfare that serves as a hymn to the church and
for the music of large celebrations. The "Fanfare der Karlskirche
Wien" op. 19 was premiered on November 8th at the Hochamt zum
Patrozinium von St. Karl Borromäus under his direction.
Kreuzherrenorden had once had a boys' choir at Karlskirche - the
Singspatzen, which, however, dissolved in the 1950s. Since September
2017, the Karlsknaben have been founded as a successor boys' choir,
who are to sing regularly at masses in the Karlskirche.
Design and construction
In the architectural competition, Johann
Bernhard Fischer von Erlach prevailed against Ferdinando
Galli-Bibiena and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, among others. He
designed the church as a link between Rome and Byzantium. So she
leans on the appearance of Hagia Sophia and imitates the Trajan
column. The site was fixed on November 11, 1715; In the same year,
the first stone mason orders went to the masters Johann Georg
Haresleben and Elias Hügel in Kaisersteinbruch and Andreas Steinböck
in Eggenburg. On February 4, 1716, the foundation stone was laid on
a hill on the right bank of the barely regulated Vienna River. Due
to the death of Haresleben in the same year, Hügel directed the
stonework alone and became an employee of Fischer von Erlach. The
co-masters Johann Baptist Kral, Simon Sasslaber and Johann Sebastian
Hillebrand worked in camaraderie with Hügel.
On both sides of the choir of the Karlskirche and
as entrances to the oratorios, unusually generously dimensioned
spiral staircases are arranged. They belong to the winding stairs
with cheek pillars, a special type of staircase that originated in
Rome. The first of these stairs comes from Donato Bramante and was
created for the Belvedere of the Vatican (1507–1514). Numerous
architects emulated basically similar spiral staircases. With the
influence of Italian-trained architects in Vienna, it was logical to
build on the Roman stair architecture. The wide winding stairs of
the Karlskirche are impressive evidence.
Hard Kaiserstein was
used for the main portal, for all stairs (Kaiseroratorium), base
plates, cornices and the monumental pedestals of the two columns. At
the high altar, Elias Hügel designed the cafeteria, Philipp Köchl
the tabernacle made of Laas marble and the Linz Johann Georg Röhrig
altar steps made of black Nassauer marble. The Wiener Bauhütte was
initially represented by Johann Carl Trumler, and after his death by
Matthias Winkler, who were both Hofsteinmetz and cathedral master
builders from St. Stephan. The large, hollow columns are made of
Zogelsdorfer stone, a work by the masters Andreas Steinböck and
Franz Strickner. The spiral reliefs are by the sculptors Johann
Baptist Mader, Johann Baptist Straub and Jakob Christoph
Schletterer, the crowning eagle by Lorenzo Mattielli. Master Georg
Deprunner from Loretto in Hungary made the drum columns of the dome.
16 vases on the dome are by Ignaz Gunst.
death in 1723, the construction was completed by his son Joseph
Emanuel until 1739, who partially changed the plans. The church was
originally aligned directly with the Hofburg and until 1918 it was
also the imperial parish church.
As the author of historical
architecture, Fischer combined a wide variety of elements. The
church shows the founder’s imperial self-image and his formal
language is based on the Rome-Byzantium-Vienna connection. The
facade in the middle, which leads to the porch, corresponds to a
Roman temple portico. The two columns next to it are based on the
Trajan column in Rome, showing reliefs of the life of Karl
Barromäus. However, they also symbolize the two pillars of the
Solomon Temple Jachin and Boas and the pillars of Hercules and thus
refer to the reign in Spain, the Charles VI. had lost through the
War of the Spanish Succession. Next to it are the two tower
pavilions influenced by the Roman Baroque (Bernini and Borromini).
Above the church hall there is a dome with a diameter of 25 m and a
high drum, which was shortened and partially changed by the younger
fisherman. The plan of the dome is not circular, but has the shape
of an ellipse. That is why the dome looks smaller from the front
entrance than from the side. A connection to the dome of Hagia
Sophia in Constantinople was already established by contemporaries.
The construction costs officially amounted to 304,045 guilders
and 22¼ Kreuzer and were borne by all crown countries, but also
Spain, the Duchy of Milan and the Netherlands. Penalties were also
used, which the city of Hamburg had to reimburse because "the mob
there had demolished the chapel of the Austrian legation". In 1727
Marcus and Mayr Hirschl anticipated 150,000 fl. There is talk of
another 100,000 guilders, which the Hirschl brothers should pay in
installments at certain times.
iconographic program of the large church comes from the court
official Carl Gustav Heraeus and connects St. Karl Borromeo with his
imperial founder. The relief on the gable above the entrance refers
to the reason for the foundation: It shows how the city, which was
plagued by the plague, is finally saved by the intercession of St.
Charles Borromeo. On the parapet behind the gable are the
allegorical figures of religion, mercy, penance and zeal for prayer.
The attic is also one of the elements inserted by the younger
fisherman. The columns show motifs from the life of Karl Borromäus
in a spiral relief, but are also intended to commemorate the columns
of Herakles and act as symbols of imperial power. The entrance is
flanked by two angels. One shows the exaltation of the brazen
serpent as a symbol of the Old Testament, the other the cross of
Christ on behalf of the New Testament.
The portal's program continues inside, especially
in the dome fresco by Johann Michael Rottmayr from Salzburg and
Gaetano Fanti (false architecture), which represents an intercession
by Karl Borromäus, who is supported by Maria. This scene is flanked
by the three divine virtues of faith, hope and love. The frescoes in
some side chapels are attributed to Daniel Gran.
on the high altar, depicting St. Charles Borromeo in the sky, was
designed by the older fisherman and executed by Ferdinand Maximilian
Brokoff. The altarpieces in the six side chapels are from various
artists, including Daniel Gran, Sebastiano Ricci, Martino Altomonte,
Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini and Jacob van Schuppen. On the side
volutes of two side altars are allegorical figures by the Venetian
sculptor Antonio Corradini.
The lighting direction and the
architectural structure, especially the high arcade openings in the
main axis, have a strong effect. The color is determined by the
marble, gold fittings are deliberately used sparingly. The large
round glass window high above the main altar with the Hebrew YHWH
tetragram symbolizes God's omnipotence and at the same time, by its
warm shade of yellow, God's love.
In addition to the
fragments of buildings in Schönbrunn that have survived in this
form, the Karlskirche is considered Fischer's main work.
There is a baroque organ on the organ gallery with its
columned stem, the builder of whom is unknown. The middle case dates
from around 1739. However, the instrument was fundamentally modified
in 1847 by Joseph Seyberth and equipped with a free-standing game
table. Both side wings also date from this period.
builder Gerhard Hradetzky again extensively renovated the instrument
in 1989. The Physharmonica was reconstructed. The keyboards were
also renewed and the broken octave was expanded chromatically.