Viennese call it the „church with a shot down tower“. Indeed, the spiky roof of the church tower served as a target for many shooting attempts during different battles and wars in the past. For the last time during the second Turkish siege of Vienna. After that, the decision was made to replace the top by a flat roof so that it wouldn’t tempt shooters anymore.
Minoritenkirche – Friars Minor Conventual Church is located in the inner city, right next to the most important governmental institutions. It is one of the oldest churches in Vienna.
Coming home from the Fifth Crusade, Leopold VI, Duke of Austria met the followers of Francis of Assisi and asked them to build a monastery in Vienna. When four Minorites came to Vienna, they were given by Leopold the site on which the monastery of the Order of Friars Conventual Church was built. The church was finished in 1250, however, 25 years later, it was damaged by a big fire. The foundation stone of the renewed church was laid by King Ottokar II of Bohemia.
Emperor Joseph II gave the church to the Italians. Minorites returned here only in the 20th century, but before that, when Napoleon marched into Vienna in 1809, the church was used as a storehouse and stables for the horses of the French soldiers. We will speak again about Napoleon later…
Nowadays, there are holy masses still held in Italian. The church is visited also by tourists but not by such crowds like St Stephen’s Cathedral. That might be because many people don’t know at all what is hidden inside this house of God.
Even those who haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, the bestseller by Dan Brown, know the famous mural painting The Last Supper by Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci housed by the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. It is not only the highlight of his work but, according to Brown’s mystery novel, it contains a hidden code which can help find the Holy Grail.
A Copy Better than the Original
For the fans of the American author and his book, who would like to explore Leonardo’s painting, it is not necessary to travel to Milan. Instead of that, they can visit Vienna. And the Minoritenkirche.
Back to Napoleon: after seeing Leonardo’s original in Milan, he ordered to remove it from the wall and bring it to Paris. When the attempt to remove it failed, Napoleon ordered an exact copy. The copy is truly perfect:
– it has the original size: 4,47 x 9,18 m
– not only the motif is depicted exactly but also the colours are original
– the picture is placed on the wall so that the light comes through a church window on the left – like in the refectory in Milan. It means that Jesus and the apostles are illuminated from the front
It is even said that the copy is more similar to the original than the original itself! For the following reasons:
– Leonardo’s painting started to deteriorate and colours faded very soon after it was completed
– it was also damaged during World War II
– there were numerous restoration attempts
– Jesus lost his feet after a door was added into the wall
The main difference between the original and this copy is the fact that the object in the Minoritenkirche is a mosaic. However, at first sight, you will not notice that because it is made of minuscule stones laid without gaps. There are more than 120 thousand of these stones and the mosaic weighs 20 tons!
How Did the Mosaic Get to Vienna?
The mosaic was created by Roman Giacomo Raffaelli. It took him eight years and was completed in 1814 – at a time when Napoleon had already fallen from grace and could not receive his order. Austrian Emperor Francis II, Napoleon’s father-in-law, bought the mosaic for the Belvedere palace but actually, it was too big for the rooms there. His successor, Ferdinand I gave the mosaic to the Minorites in 1847.
While in Milan access to the original painting is limited and you can admire Leonardo’s work for not more than ten minutes, in Vienna, there are neither restrictions nor fees in the church. You can sit down on a church bank and explore the Last Supper for as long as you wish. The scene captures the moment when Jesus said to his disciples that one of them would betray him. It is very interesting to observe how the apostles react and gesticulate. You can see different emotions in their faces, shock and even anger…
Those who know the novel by Dan Brown can contemplate undisturbed about the questions which were raised by the book: Why is the apostle John, unlike the others, so calm? And why does he appear so feminine? Is it not a woman? Mary Magdalena perhaps? If yes, where is John then? Why is the painting missing the chalice as a symbol of the Holy Grail? Or is the Grail not a vessel but a person? Mary Magdalena? Why is Peter (bending over Judas with a pouch of money in his hand) holding a knife in his right hand and why – according to the perspective – are his hands depicted not properly? And is it true that Leonardo portrayed himself in the figure of Thaddeus (the second man from the right)? And so on…
By the way, do you know that in 2007, the Italian musician and computer expert Giovanni Maria Pala assigned the loaves of bread on the table and the apostles’ hands with musical notes and so created and played on an organ a 40-second-long sequence of some heavenly music?
What There Is More to See in the Church:
A memorial of Pietro Metastasio, an Italian poet, composer and librettist who was honoured with the title “Imperial Court Poet”. There is pope Pius IV blessing the dying poet. The scene is watched by Salieri, Mozart (wiping off a tear) and Haydn – all were famous composers and members of the Freemasons’ Grand Lodge in Vienna.
Madonna made of coloured stone on one of the columns is one of the most beautiful sculptures of this type in Vienna. It is interesting that it was moved to St Stephen’s Cathedral before World War II, survived the fire at the end of the war as a miracle and, finally, was moved back to the Minoritenkirche.
A painting of St Francis on a stone from the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century. The holy man is fully absorbed in prayer.
If you visit the church on or after Easter, you can also find an Easter crib here. There is the motif of the Last Supper as well.
I also recommend visiting the chapel of St Anthony of Padua (to the left of the main altar). While the interior of the church is pretty gloomy, the chapel is full of light (on a sunny day) and the very high space above your head is also stunning. And don’t forget to pray to St Anthony for something you lost.
Leaving the church, take one more look at the mosaic with the Last Supper. The entire central perspective is concentrated on Jesus’ right temple. Similar to English, in Italian, tempia means the temple as part of the head and tempio is the word for a temple. In Latin, tempus means both time and the temple on the head. Is Jesus the temple in all its meanings? Or what did Leonardo intend to tell us with that?…..
Address of the Minoritenkirche: Minoritenplatz 2A (U3 subway station: Herrengasse)
Opening hours: April-September: 07.30 – 19.00, October-March: 07.30 – 17.00
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri