St. Stephen’s Cathedral is considered the symbol of Vienna, Austria. It’s not only the main Roman Catholic Church in Vienna, but it’s one of Austria’s most popular attractions as well, welcoming more than a million visitors each year. The cathedral is also one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria.
In the cathedral’s North Tower is the massive Pummerin bell, which is the largest and heaviest bell in Austria. The bell weighs nearly 21 tons and spans 10 feet in diameter, which makes it the second-largest free-swinging bell in Europe. The bell is rung only on special occasions, such as New Year’s Eve. At 12 Midnight on January 1, the giant Pummerin bell rings in the New Year with the chimes simultaneously broadcasting across TV and radio stations and to the people that have gathered in the street.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is also known for its stately towers, which have dominated Vienna’s skyline for centuries. The tallest of these is the South Tower. Built in 1356, it stands 32 stories high and is considered the most beautiful German Gothic tower in Europe.
The 343 spiral steps to the Watch Room will bring spectacular views, considered the best sights over Vienna’s historic city center. At this vantage point, guest can get a closer look at the cathedral’s famous roof tiles. The roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral is well known for its 230,000 colored tiles fixed in various designs. The south edge of the roof displays a double-headed eagle that is the symbol of the Austrian Empire under the rule of the Habsburgs. There are two additional eagles, both with single heads carrying the coats of arms of the City of Vienna and of the Republic of Austria.
The inside of the cathedral is just as dramatic as the outside with rich ornamentation of dragons, birds and lions. Also of note is the Bishop’s Gate, which was originally reserved for female visitors. The gate boasts figurative sculptures from 1370, along with a number of coats of arms. The Singer Gate was the entry for male visitors and is notable for its figures of the apostles and the legend of St. Paul dating from 1378.
The expansive three-aisled interior of St. Stephen’s is divided by pillars with standing life-size statues, including one of St. Christopher dating back to 1470. The 16th-century pulpit is the most important work of art in the nave of the church. The pulpit is considered a masterpiece of late Gothic sculpture decorated with the figures of the Four Fathers of the Church.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral welcomes visitors year-round. For more information, visit www.stephanskirche.at.