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If you are standing outside the Votivkirche, you are standing in front of one of the most beautiful churches in Vienna... And there are hundreds!
A true Gothic style monument, this temple is located on a privileged site and was built as a result of a curious history that is reflected in the church's name. The fact that this is a votive church indicates that it was built in order to give thanks for something, in this case for the happy outcome of an attack.
On the 18th of February, 1853, the young emperor Franz Joseph, recently married to Sisi, was taking a walk around the area when the deranged tailor János Libényi pounced on him and stabbed him in the neck.
The emperor was saved at the last minute by a passing butcher, Joseph Ettenreich, who raised the alarm, with the result that the wounds the emperor received were not fatal. In return for saving his life Emperor Franz Joseph elevated the butcher noble status, and he became Joseph von Ettenreich. Von Ettenreich has been known to have been called The Butcher Count.
His life having been miraculously saved, the emperor decided to build a church on the site where the attack happened as a means of thanking God.
It was Franz Joseph's brother, Archduke Maximilian, who would later become Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, who ordered the church to be built in fulfilment of a vow, hence the name.
A popular collection was announced in order to cover the costs of construction, and the response was overwhelming, with donations from 300,000 subjects. A public contest was also held in order to choose the best design.
A total of 76 projects were submitted from places as diverse as Austria-Hungary, France, England and numerous German territories, though officials finally chose the young Heinrich von Fertsel, whose design was inspired mostly by French Gothic cathedrals.
The emperor Franz Joseph I laid the first stone of the Votive Church at the construction inauguration ceremony in 1856.
However, the Votive Church would not be completed and officially inaugurated until the 24th April, 1879, on the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of the imperial couple, Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sisi), who would be assassinated 19 years later.
Today, the two majestic, almost-100-metre-high towers with beautiful filigree needles give this temple its unique character.
Visitors to the three interior naves will notice that many of the chapels are dedicated to Austrian regiments and military heroes and highlights of the interior include the main altar, known as the Antwerp Altar, which is carved in late Gothic style and features a canopy supported by four towering red granite columns, and the Renaissance sarcophagus of Nikla Salm, who led the troops who defended Vienna against the Turkish siege in 1529.
It is also worth noting that the Votive Church houses an altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe (the patron saint of Mexico), the largest of all those existing outside Mexico. This altar was built to commemorate Maximilian, who was already Emperor of Mexico.
As a curiosity, visitors may like to check to see if the 4-metre-high, 30 centimetre-wide candle from 1930 weighing 264 kilos and known as the "Barbarakerze" (Barbara's candle) is still burning. It is said that the candle would last 100 years.
We have no doubt that the visit of the church will impress you as much for its size as for its beauty.
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