The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche), also known as University Church (Universitätskirche), is a lavishly decorated (in baroque style) church in Vienna. You cannot tell this from its façade as it is done very simply – a classic two-story church with twin towers and simple walls, with statues depicting various Christian saints. Inside, there is another story – ornate decorations themed with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, telling her journey, depicted in warm colors and golden details.
Located just five minutes’ walk from Stephansplatz, Jesuit Church can be easily missed as it is cramped in between buildings that simply don’t do it justice. The buildings are those of the Old University, hosting today the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Hence University Church, but that’s another, longer story.
Name: Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche)
Type of attraction: Church
Built/opened: 17th century
Location: Doktor-Ignaz-Seipel-Platz 1, 1010 Wien, 1st district, Innere Stadt
Public transport: This attraction is in the city center and is reachable on foot. Nearest public transport stops are U1/U3 (Stephansplatz) and bus 3A (Riemergasse)
Opening hours: 7 days a week, 8:00-18:00 (even on public holidays)
Official website: https://jesuitenkirche-wien.at/
Who are the Jesuits?
The Jesuits are officially called the Society of Jesus. They are an international group of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. The order was founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and his companions in the 16th century. High focus on education has made Jesuit society very influential through centuries. This has created animosity towards them, to the extent their order was suppressed in 1773.
The society was re-established in 1814 and has flourished ever since. There are about 14,000 members of the order around the world and about 20 in Vienna.
The current Pope, Francis, was a member of a Jesuit order until becoming a Pope in 2013. Technically, he is still a Jesuit, according to this article.
The church was built between 1623 and 1627 on the site of an earlier chapel and it was dedicated to Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. It was consecrated in 1631. Today’s interior of the church was designed and executed by the Jesuit architect, sculptor, and painter Andrea Pozzo, during the period between 1703 and 1705. Pozzo also redesigned the exterior, adding twin towers and reimagining the façade in general. Once the church was renovated, it was dedicated again to the Assumption of Mary. The architect died in 1709 and his tomb is inside the church.
After the abolition of the Jesuit order (1773), the church was managed by the state, and it was initially used as a garrison church and from 1783 as the seat of a newly created city parish (which existed until 1908). The church was also used for the university service, which is one of the reasons it is called University Church.
The exterior of the church
From the outside, the Jesuit Church has a simple designed two-level facade with early Baroque structure, topped by a narrow central gable and baroque towers with spires. The facade is decorated with sculptures of saints: top – Saint Catherine, Saint Joseph, Saint Leopold, Saint Barbara (late 17th century), below – Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier (early 18th century). The main facade was renovated in 1965.
The original longitudinal room was redesigned into a central room usually popular at the beginning of the 18th century. Ceiling frescoes are done by Pozzo and reworked in 1827 by Peter Krafft.
The high altar forms a distinctive part of the church with altarpiece “Maria Himmelfahrt”, oil on canvas, done by Pozzo, and with self-portrait as Apostle Andreas.
There are series of chapels from either side, left and right. Left side: Chapel of the Philosophical Faculty, Stanislaus Chapel, Guardian Angel, and Ignatius Chapel. On the right side are Chapel of the Theological Faculty, Annenkapelle, Leopold Chapel, and Josefskapelle.
Services and events
The Jesuit Church is a fully functional church providing religious services, weddings, christenings, and masses. Rich music programs are helped by the St. Augustin Choir Association and the Consortium Musicum Vienna. Concerts are performed on Sundays and church holidays.
The church also sells commemorative souvenirs, mostly religious in nature – prayer books, hymn cards, church music books, calendars, etc.
The Jesuit Church of Vienna is yet another gem among religious objects in the city. With centuries-long tradition and history, this church has many stories to tell, both as a place of worship and as an architectural and artistic masterpiece. With a central location, it should be on the regular visit list for any Vienna visitor and resident alike.