Sunday, July 25, 2010


Two weeks ago, the Jesuits studying German for the summer in Innsbruck made a daytrip to the ancient city of Brixen in South Tyrol, long under Habsburg rule but ceded to Italy following Austria's defeat in the First World War. Though South Tyrol had an overwhelmingly German-speaking population and had been linked with the Holy Roman Empire and its successor states for hundreds of years, the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini tried to "Italianize" South Tyrol by making Italian place names official (hence Brixen is also known as Bressanone), banning the teaching of German in schools (leading local residents to organize clandestine Katakombenschulen where German was taught in secret), and offering incentives for Italian-speakers to settle in the region. In spite of all this, Brixen and South Tyrol have retained a solid German-speaking majority to the present day; all street signs are bilingual (see above) but German is still the language one hears most often on the streets, as well as the language that three-quarters of Brixen's residents speak at home.

My visit to Brixen was part of an excursion organized by the rector of the Jesuitenkolleg, a native of South Tyrol who chose to enter the Society of Jesus in Austria while retaining Italian citizenship. (The rector's story is far from unique: a fair number of Jesuits in the Austrian Province come from South Tyrol.) It is easy to see why locals would take pride in a place like Brixen and would want to show it off to foreign visitors - the compact city center is made up of mostly pedestrianized streets, small squares with fountains in the middle, and plenty of charming old houses with balconies overlooking the narrow streets. Attractions like these are liable to attract tourists, of whom there were a few on the Saturday that I visited Brixen. The city center was still far less congested than the more touristy parts of Innsbruck, and most of the readily identifiable out-of-towners were speaking German or Italian. The general impression that I came away with is that Brixen is a city that few American travelers would think to visit, which made me all the more grateful that I had an opportunity to see the place.

One of the highlights of our visit to Brixen was a stop at the Brixner Dom, the city's historic Catholic cathedral. The present-day Diocese of Bozen-Brixen traces it origins back to the 6th century, and there has been a church on the site of the current cathedral for nearly a thousand years. The cathedral's frescoed medieval cloisters deserve a post of their own; for now, the last photo in this set offers a kind of sneak preview. The cloisters rest in the shadow of a majestic Baroque structure consecrated in 1758, of which you may find exterior and interior photos above.

The Brixner Dom lacks a crypt, but several former bishops are interred beneath the polished stone floor of the nave; some of the grave markers bear the words "et Princeps," a reminder that the Bishop of Brixen was once a secular leader as well as a religious one. A plaque mounted on the wall outside the entrance to the cathedral (furthest to the left in the second to last photo) recalls that one 11th century bishop of Brixen became pope, reigning for twenty-three days as Damasus II before dying of malaria. In comparatively more recent times, as attested by the two plaques beside the one commemorating Pope Damasus II, the Brixner Dom has also enjoyed visits from Popes Pius VI (in 1782) and Benedict XVI (in 2008). In short, the Brixner Dom is a very beautiful church with a rich history.

Stay tuned for more reports on my travels. I haven't left Innsbruck since making the trip to Brixen two weeks ago - my studies have been keeping me fully occupied- but I do hope to do a little more travel in the surrounding regions once I'm done with my German course. In the meantime, you can expect a few more updates on my progress here. If you're so inclined, please spare a prayer for me and my fellow students at the Jesuitenkolleg as we continue to grapple with the wonders and mysteries of the German language. AMDG.


At 7/25/2010 9:11 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

I have visited Bolsano/Bolzen and the Dolomites in northern Italy a couple of times. I love the blend of Italianate and Germanic art there. I recall trying to locate a hotel for the group I was I travelling with. Since I was fluent in German and looked Italian, I was delegated to find it. I asked a couple of very Teutonic-looking policemen for Piazza del Grano and was given quizzical looks. I then switched to Kornplatz and was immediately given directions! From then on, I only communicated with people in German there.

Glad you are having an opportunity to tour a bit. I keep your studies in my prayers. Lasset uns beten ...


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