Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flashback 2a: My Christmas Break- Vienna

So after the Christmas festivities died down, I and three of my friends got ourselves packed and took off to the airport the afternoon of the 27th. We departed for Bratislava, at which point we were picked up and brought to the monastery at Closter Neuberg, just outside of Vienna. To give the history of the place could take hours and endless blog posts- I would recommend looking it up if you get a chance at some point. It's really rather fascinating. The monastery is extremely well-endowed, both from previous emperors and rulers as well as from the money the city of Vienna pays them regularly for use of their land. Apparently, or so I was told when I returned to Rome, Closter Neuberg owned about a third of the land on which the city of Vienna was built, all the way down to the Danube, so the city pays the monastery well for use of their land. The men who have committed themselves to the service of God at Closter Neuberg are known as 'canons'. It is a distinction with which I am still not entirely familiar, since we don't really have such a system in the United States, but they are priests who live in community at the service of the diocese. Almost all of them have a parish for which they are pastors or associate pastors, and they divide up their days praying, working, and recreating at the monastery and celebrating the sacraments and serving the people at the parish. A couple of them are in Rome studying for various higher degrees of education, and we actually got hooked up with the place by one of them, to whom we are most grateful.

The 'canon' system seems like a fascinating idea- it seems to be a problem plaguing the priests of every diocese of the states (and perhaps the world) that there is not enough fraternal support or accountability. Here at the North American College we've been advised repeatedly that, to stay strong as a priest, we need to maintain a good, faithful prayer life and maintain true, mature friendships with other priests. The canon system seems like a beautiful way in which to do just that, while still serving the diocese. Whether this could ever happen in the states is beyond me, but it seems like some movement in that direction could be one answer to a few of the problems facing the Church in America today.
There were a huge number of pictures taken on this trip, so forgive me if I do not comment on all of them. They begin with our entrance late late in the evening our first night there and work through our tour of the grounds the next day, as well as our couple day trips into Vienna. Those that follow immediately are all from our first day or two at Closter Neuberg.

We met a heavy, mechanized gate upon arrival. The complex was EXTREMELY well protected, to defend all the priceless items I will describe shortly.

Yeah, this was just in the Kaiser's Sitting Room, essentially, not in a chapel or anything. [:)

Here we saw one of the only full tapestry sets left in existence, apparently. It's worth more than its weight in gold, and tapestries weigh quite a bit!

These last few pictures have all been from the Kaiser's suite, which he had them build when they built the monastery. He ended up staying... wait for it... wait for it... a whopping one night. This is a picture of the radiator from one of the Kaiser's rooms. It looks more like an altar...

Ambrose, our tour guide and a novice with the canons, continued the tour and eventually we came to the monastery's schatzkammer, their treasury/vault. They have acquired a number of priceless artifacts over the many years from various civic and ecclesial authorities. This is the entrance room, with various vestment sets and precious vessels. They also have the second oldest German bible in existence- as in the second oldest hand-written one, not printed. They used to have the oldest one, but they gave it away, I think.

In the next room, which was in many ways like a sacristy, they housed many of their priceless vestments and their national treasures.

This was made of woven silver and gold. Seriously. He let us touch it. It felt like it must have weighed as much as a suit of armor.

Here is one of the national and Church treasures- the skull of St. Leopold, patron of Austria. He was the Margrave of Austria (essentially the Lord in service of the Kaiser/Emperor) and founder of Klosterneuberg. He was a man of great piety and justice, who actually turned down a possible succession to the throne as Kaiser. Students in much of Austria actually get his feast day off from school.

This monstrance is just about solid gold and semi-precious gems, if I recall. It's much too heavy to use for benediction. This, like the skull of St. Leopold and the next item, is kept under four separate locks and security system.

This is the royal crown of Austria. It's in the keep of the canons at Klosterneuberg. They actually possess a papal bull stating that anyone who removes it from the monastery for more than twenty-eight days is automatically excommunicated! Obviously, it's not used any longer. The most recent use was for the funeral of Empress Zita of Austria in the 80s or early 90s, though I could be wrong on that.

Here I am, posing with Saint Ursula and companions, virgins and martyrs. They just had her kept in a closet in their Schatzkammer. It was really quite stunning.

Alright, then we moved on to the Church proper. The odd picture of the glass box is the Kaiser's booth for Mass. He came periodically to attend Mass here.

As a side note, if you can't tell from the pictures, the dress code at the monastery was cassock for everything, so we brought ours along for our time in Klosterneuberg.

These next pictures are from our time in Vienna proper. The first is from the inside of the cathedral, Stephansdom. The second is shot from the top of the tower of the cathedral- notice the unusual roof. It's very distinctive and makes this cathedral probably one of the easiest to pick out in a photo album of random churches in Europe.

Here is the Hofburg Imperial Palace (or at least one small angle of it- each side and angle is very different and beautiful in its own right), old residence of the Kaiser.

This next one is difficult to see, but it's the altar piece for the Church of St. Michael right across the way from the Hofburg. It depicts, if you look carefully, the casting out of the fallen angels from heaven. It's called something like "The Overthrow of the Angels". It was a pretty cool piece, but the lighting was very bad for pictures.

Here we see all the decorations for Advent and Christmas.

Our last day, I got a shot of Klosterneuberg from afar. Then you see my traveling companions chilling in a park in Austria, and finally the tomb of Franz Joseph in the Imperial crypt underneath a Capuchin church in Austria.

Then we took off by train for Linz and Munich...

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