Friday, November 04, 2011

Die Karlskirche in Wien.

The Roman Catholic liturgy for today includes the commemoration of Saint Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan who played a significant role in implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent, particularly in the realm of priestly formation. All Catholic seminarians owe something to this sixteenth-century cardinal, insofar as the academic structure that Borromeo and his contemporaries gave to priestly formation has essentially endured to the present day, albeit with adjustments and adaptations to account for the concrete needs of the Church in different historical periods and in diverse places.

Since my time in Austria this past summer, I can't hear the name of Charles Borromeo without thinking of the Karlskirche in Vienna. The Karlskirche was built as an act of thanksgiving for the end of an early eighteenth-century plague outbreak; construction of this massive Baroque church began in 1716 and was completed twenty-one years later. The church was dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo both on account of his status as the patron saint of plague victims (Milan faced a major plague epidemic during his episcopate, and Borromeo spent a lot of time caring for the plague's victims) and for the very practical reason that Borromeo was the patron saint of the Habsburg emperor who commissioned the church, Charles VI.

In light of today's feast, I thought this might be a good time to post some photos of the Karlskirche. I took these pictures on a beautiful summer evening in mid-July - actually, it was the same evening that I attended an open-air performance of Don Giovanni at the TU Wien, which is next door to the Karlskirche. The large plaza in front of the Karlskirche (the Karlsplatz) provided an ideal place to mill around before the opera started.

The gold-lettered inscription above the entrance to the Karlskirche reads: Vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium Deum - "my vows I will pay before those who fear God" (Psalm 21:26 in the Latin Vulgate, numbered as 22:25 in most modern translations of the Bible).

Another view of the front of the Karlskirche; note the people sitting on the steps, enjoying evening at the Karlsplatz. The Karlsplatz is close to the center of Vienna, but I got the impression over the course of several repeat visits that this plaza has not been taken over by tourists in the way that, say, the Stephansplatz has been; the people gathered here on summer evenings seemed more often than not to be locals, with a good mix of university students chatting excitedly in small groups, teenagers skateboarding or playing basketball, and pensioners sitting quietly and watching the passing scene.

I saw and heard this quartet of female musicians playing opposite the Karlskirche; note the open case poised to accept donations. They were actually playing string transcriptions of '80s and '90s pop songs - sadly, I can't remember any of the specific tunes involved. (Ironically, I do remember wondering at the time whether or not I should make a note of what they were playing in order to remind myself later, but I dismissed the thought on the unwarranted assumption that I would easily remember the titles even if I didn't write them down!)

This is the view that the people sitting on the steps of the Karlskirche a couple of photos ago were enjoying: the reflecting pool in front of the church, with the sunset sky in the distance. I must say that it is photos like this one that most remind me of how much I want to go back to Vienna - a desire that I have consciously felt at least once a day since I left the city.

To end this post, I would like to return the focus to Saint Charles Borromeo by sharing an anecdote about him that Father Tim Finigan offered earlier today on his blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity:
I recall another incident from [Borromeo's] life, in which, having now been recognised as a no-nonsense reformer, he visited a religious house where the Fathers tried to put on a good show of keeping the rule and being obedient to the Council of Trent. At the close of his visit, they asked him for a memento. He said that he had left one in the chapel. After his departure, they went to the chapel and saw on the prie-dieu for the priest to prepare for Mass, that St Charles had signed his name in the dust.
May Saint Charles Borromeo continue to intercede for all priests and seminarians; by his prayers and good example, may we more faithfully live out our vocation of service. AMDG.


At 11/05/2011 11:57 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I spent a month living in Vienna - during Advent of '96. I found the Karlskirche and the plaza to be graced places even in those cold, damp, dark days. I took my oldest, then 2, to run off steam there (now he's applying to Georgetown?? where did the years go?).

My memories of Vienna are still strong, and I have family ties there. I would love to go back.

At 11/06/2011 12:22 PM, Blogger Joe Koczera, S.J. said...


I didn't realize you had spent time there also - we should compare notes! (I would like to see the city at another time of year, since I've only been there in summer.)

Glad to hear your son is applying to Georgetown - obviously I'm biased, but I think it's a great place to go to school.


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