Face lift

A piece of good news: After four years of intensive cleaning and restoration work, the main facade of Vienna’s late medieval Stephansdom [St. Stephen’s Cathedral] now shines with renewed splendour:

I have to admit that the restoration work was actually completed about three weeks ago, so this may not count as news in the strictest sense of the word. Then again, it is an extremely recent event when we take into account that the facade of St. Stephen‘s is between ca. 775 and 500 years old. The central part, including the iconic octagonal towers, goes back to the Romanesque church built ca. 1235-1265…

Substantial additions to the facade were made, however, in the 14th and 15th centuries when the rest of the church was rebuilt in the late Gothic style. I’m not going to give you precise dates for these latter phases of construction because, when it comes to the exact building chronology of the late medieval Stephansdom, matters are contested, today more than ever.* So I’ll just limit myself to pointing out what a great job the restorers have done on the facade.

The only problem is, of course, that as soon as you turn the corner you realise how much more work still needs to be done in the future…

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* This is mostly due to Hans Josef Böker’s monograph Der Wiener Stephansdom: Architektur als Sinnbild für das Haus Österreich, Salzburg 2007, which has successfully overthrown many firmly held convictions and beliefs of previous scholarship. However, Böker’s own attempt to reassemble the pieces in a new way hasn’t met with universal approval either, as has been shown by a conference dedicated to the architecture of the Stephansdom earlier this year: St. Stephan in Wien. Die gotische Kirche im Bau, International Conference at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte der Universität Wien,  June 6-8, 2011.

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