A Stroll through Vienna's Catholic Architectural Flourishes

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By Michelle Gress

In the city of Vienna, the customary greeting is “Gruss Gott.” This charming way of meeting people is a blessing: loosely translated it means “God’s greeting to you.” It’s a reminder of the region’s deep Catholic roots, used by stranger and family alike.

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The deep, rich Catholic tradition in this region is demonstrated in many other charming ways. One of the loveliest is the facades that feature religious images. Such architectural flourishes are certainly not exclusive to Vienna, but the city has plenty of which it can boast.

It’s the sweetest surprise to be walking down a narrow cobblestone street in the heart of Vienna and encounter the Coronation of Mary. Or to go to a local heuriger (a wine tavern that makes its own wine) and see an image of our Lady on the facade of the building. Or to find St. Joseph standing atop a private home on a busy street. A facade of the Eucharist can be spied on the top of a one of the older mansions in Vienna’s cottage district. Meanwhile, Mary adorns the doorways of many apartment buildings.

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Christianity in Austria dates back to the 3rd century, and continued to grow until Austria was a predominantly Catholic country until the Reformation, when Protestantism gained. The Counter-Reformation was very effective with Austria returning to the faith and has been uniformly Catholic since the late 16th century. Vienna's streets offer plenty of proof of the Catholic ethos, despite the age, wars, and decline in faith over the last century.

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Like the blessing “Gruss Gott,” the religious art on doorways and facades are continuous reminders of God’s presence in our lives, the lives of our neighbors, and the culture. Some people notice, some people seem not to, but it doesn’t diminish the beauty found in the most unexpected ways, left to us by an age when the faith was lively and creative.

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Carrie Gress