Located around the corner from Albertinaplatz, Augustinian Church (Augustinerkirche) is an important religious landmark in Vienna. Small but Imposing clock (and bell) tower is the first thing you see from the Albertinaplatz side, but somewhat uninviting façade on the Augustinerstraße with few small shops on the street level might distract you and you might miss it while walking between other Vienna attractions.
The church (and the monastery) date back to the 14th century and it is one of the oldest buildings in Vienna. What is fascinating, it hosts preserved hearts from several members of the imperial family. It was also an official imperial church for centuries, hence many royal weddings took place there.
The church and monastery are bordering Albertina and Austrian National Library (via Josefsplatz) and they are just behind Palmenhaus at Burggarten.
Name: Augustinian Church – Augustinerkirche
Type of attraction: Church/monastery
Built/opened: Built 1339, concecrated 1349
Location: Augustinerstraße 3, 1010 Wien, 1st district
Public transport: Bus 2A stops in front of the church, but it is reachable on foot from any corner of 1st district
Opening hours: 08:00-19:30, 7 days a week.
Official website: https://hochamt.augustiner.at/
The monastery and church were founded by Frederick the Fair (Friedrich dem Schönen) since he made a vow to do it while he was a prisoner of King Ludwig of Bavaria at Trausnitz Castle. After the consent of the Pope in 1327, the Augustinians, who had had a small monastery in Oberen Werd since around 1260, moved to the city to take care of the future church and monastery. Friedrich assigned them a piece of land bordering the wall and the garden of the castle, which was originally intended for a settlement of the Cistercian order.
Construction of the church began in 1330 under the direction of the Bavarian master-builder Dietrich Ladtner von Pirn. The Augustinian Church was completed in 1339 but was consecrated only on November 1, 1349, in honor of St. Augustine.
At the beginning of the 17th century, there was a push for stricter order to be established in church and monastery so Ferdinand II decided to give preference to the stricter branch of the Augustinian order invited to Vienna from Prague. After handing over the church and monastery, he appointed the Augustinian church as the official court church in 1634 and chose it in 1637 to be the burial place of the hearts of deceased family members (Herzgrüftel).
The medieval furnishings of the Augustinian Church were replaced by lavish Baroque furnishings. The crypt below the church was enlarged.
In 1690 the church entrances were moved to the street side, and in 1719 the new sacristy was set up. In 1783 the Augustinian Church became the city parish. It was given its current form by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who returned it to the Gothic style during the 1784-1785 period.
The clock on the tower of the church was a gift from Count Franz Nadásdy, who lived opposite the tower and wanted to read the hour from his window. Since the Count was executed soon after due to his involvement in the rebellion, the church clergy was reluctant to install the clock, so it was installed only in 1713.
There is a modern pulpit in the church at the place from which Abraham a Sancta Clara (who lived in the monastery) used to give his famous popular sermons. His statue is located in front of the entrance to Burggarten.
By 1838, as the monks could not find any more followers to extend the order, the church was passed on to secular clergy. The Augustinian Church was damaged by bombing in 1945 and restored in 1950. Since 1951 it has been handed over to the Augustinian Order again.
The exterior of the church
Augustinian is a classic Gothic hall church with walls on Augustinerstraße. The former main facade (with walls, central window, and portal) was covered by a wing of the court library (today the Austrian National Library) from 1767-1769. The square tower is on the north side.
When you enter the church, on the right-hand side is the monumental main work by Antonio Canova, the grave monument for Archduchess Marie Christine, wife of Albrecht von Sachsen-Teschen, and a fifth child of Maria Theresa. This monument in a steep pyramidal shape also served as the template for Canova’s own grave monument, which his students later erected in the church of S. Maria Dei Frari in Venice. The tomb was built from 1798 to 1805 and is considered the main work of classicist tomb art.
There are several sets of pews with different levels of detail and artistry. The ones that are more elaborate came from various other churches and were designed by famous artists. Simpler ones were ordered by Emperor Josef I and Maria Theresa. Emperor was known for his frugality and aversion to spending money on things he found unnecessary.
Today’s stone-made, multicolored high altar was designed by Andreas Halbig and it is the fifth in the history of the church. This high altar made of sandstone in the style of the 15th century was made during the period between 1857 and 1870 and was originally intended for the Votive Church in Vienna.
During the interior restoration of the so-called “Christ the King’s Altar” (1997-1999), the original neo-Gothic colored version was produced, as was the neo-Gothic painting by Andreas Halbig (completed in 1870) in the wall zones of the polygon.
Christ the King
The center of the altar depicts Christ as the ruler of the world, surrounded by many depictions of angels, especially the patron saint of Emperor Franz Josef.
The current design of the presbytery is from 2003 and it was designed and executed by Mag. Johannes Höfinger.
The altar and ambo are carved from white, finely crystalline “Carrara statuario” marble, with a triangular shape. The artist was inspired by a major work by St. Augustine: “De trinitate”(“On the Trinity”). The Trinity God, adored and glorified in the celebration of the Eucharist, is said to pervade the sanctuary in this symbol.
Practically independent of the Augustinian Church, the St. George’s Chapel was built south of the choir as a liturgical assembly room for the Knighthood of St. George, founded by Duke of Austria, Otto the Merry – a younger brother of King and Duke Friedrich the Fair – this was mentioned in a document in 1337. It was consecrated in 1341. Its two-aisle design is therefore explained by this double function of the dedication.
Similar to the church itself, the architecture and the sculptures in the George’s Chapel have been preserved in their original form, but with different materials. The two altars date from the Romantic period (around 1840) and contain older images depicting St. Apollonia and St. Evangelist John on Patmos, probably from older altars from the 17th century. In the interior of the chapel, there are two important wall tombs of two members of the Daun aristocratic family: Wirich Graf Daun, who died in 1741, and Leopold Graf Daun, who died in 1766.
The most striking piece of furniture, however, is the cenotaph for Emperor Leopold II, which is located in the middle of the southern nave of the chapel over a pedestal. Originally intended for the imperial crypt, this sarcophagus, made by Franz Anton Zauner in 1799, was set up in the George Chapel in such a way that it created an atmosphere of a mausoleum.
The personal physician of Maria Theresa, Gerhard van Swieten is also buried in the crypt of this chapel.
The Loreto Chapel, located right of the main altar, holds the silver urns containing preserved hearts of Habsburg rulers, while their bodies are kept in the Imperial Crypt. So-called herzgruft contains the hearts of 54 members of the imperial family.
During the Habsburgs rule, the consideration of hygiene in frequented religious places may have played a role in distributing royal remains like this: the mortal remains are in the Capuchin crypt, the entrails in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the hearts in the heart crypt in the Augustinian Church. Or they simply wanted to have remains saved in multiple sacred places.
The Loreto Chapel was originally built in 1627. It was erected in the middle of the church space in the three westernmost central nave yokes of the nave. It was modeled by the style of the Casa Sancta in Loreto, Central Italy.
Today the chapel serves as a meeting place and place of prayer for the monks and as a place of worship on weekdays.
Famous weddings held in the church
Augustinian Church was an official court church for centuries and no wonder there were many high-profile wedding ceremonies held there over the time. Here are some most famous couples married there:
- Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth of Bavaria (1854)
- Crown Prince Rudolf and Stephanie of Belgium (1881)
- Empress Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan of Lorraine (1736)
- Archduchess Marie Louise and Napoleon Bonaparte (1810)
- Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI of France (1770)
The church also holds several memorials to military personnel fallen in battles throughout the period from the 18th century until the early 20th century.
- Sobieski memorial plaque
- A statue commemorating the Prince of Windisch-Graetz Dragoon Regiment No. 14
- For the Feldjäger Battalion No. 21
- For the fallen of the Hungarian Infantry Regiment No. 48
- For the fallen soldiers of Field Cannon Regiment No. 42
Church services and events
Augustinian Church is a fully functioning church providing full church services and masses regularly, including baptisms and weddings. Church provides organized guided tours for visitors, where they can learn about St. Augustin, the Augustinian Order, and the history of church and monastery.
Church has a very developed music program with church orchestra, choir, and various guest soloists and musicians. Two organs, the Rieger organ, originally from 1976, and Reil Organ (Wiener Bach-Orgel) from 1985 are regularly played during services and concerts. The church also sells CDs with music from their masses and concerts.
Augustinian Church (Augustinerkirche) in Vienna is very well worth a visit, both for its rich history and importance and for its very central location. We have presented very digest information about its history and origins and we are sure you will learn much more with a guided tour.
More religious landmarks