The light shines …

in the darkness … (John 1:5). 

Traditionally, the Advent season is a time of contemplation, of dark days and cold weather, and people are looking forward not only to Christmas but also to 21 December, when the days start getting longer and brighter again.

The four Advent Sundays provide the perfect occasion to explore four churches in the 8th district and discover Christmas-related masterpieces.

Christmas was first celebrated on 25 December around 350 AD. At the time, this was the also date of the winter solstice when ‘Sol invictus’ (the invincible sun god) was celebrated. It is thus highly likely that this day was chosen deliberately for the new Christian holiday, as Jesus was often metaphorically compared to the sun.

Soon, a diverse iconography emerged for depictions of the nativity, the most important elements being the baby Jesus in the manger, the ox and the donkey, Mary, Joseph, and particularly the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi as testaments to God becoming man. The choir of the angels almost always accompanies the scene.

First Sunday: Alserkirche. This early Baroque church (1694-1704) hides a veritable gem: a side altar depicting the Adoration of the Magi by Martino Altomonte that captivates with its warm colours and effective use of light.

Second Sunday: Piaristenkirche. The splendid Baroque basilica was completed in 1756. Its unusual spatial design immediately captures the attention: instead of a conventional long nave we find an oval central structure with two larger and four smaller side chapels. Before exploring those, make sure to lift your gaze to the domes painted with beautiful frescos by Franz Anton Maulbertsch. 

Third Sunday: Altlerchenfeld Church. Though technically part of the 7th district, the church is also important for many Josefstadt residents. The mid-19th century neo-Romanesque church boasts a fascinating cycle of frescos inspired by the Nazarene movement and its romantic approach to religion in art.

Fourth Sunday: Breitenfeld Church. The early-renaissance style of the district’s youngest church is also reflected in its bright interior. The nativity scene on the left side altar is by Rudolf Bacher, a founding member of the Vienna Secession, and already hints at the emerging Jugendstil.

issue 04/2020