In Wienerwald

In Wienerwald

Gate at Heiligenkreuz

Chapel Gate

(click on any photo to enlarge it)

TODAY WE TAKE A FORAY FROM OUR VIENNA HOTEL to Wienerwald. No, it’s not the world’s wurst theme park; it means “Vienna Woods,” the famed countryside where Austrian aristocrats and now, a wider swath of citizens, have resorted for R&R for centuries. Our first stop there, in the middle of the region, is the medieval Cistercian monastery called Stift Heiligenkreuz, the “Abbey of the Holy Cross.”

This is the Cistercian order’s second-largest monastery, and has been continuously active since its founding in 1133 by Margrave Leopold III of Babenberg, whose son, Otto, decided to become a Cistercian when studying abroad in Paris. He asked Dad to build him a monastery, and voilá!

Our Group

Our Group

Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem (really sounds like a local, doesn’t he?), is said to have received a relic, a piece of the “true cross,” during the 12th century. (Baldwin, by the way, was a leper). In 1182, he made a gift of the object to Duke Leopold V of Austria, who, after six years, gave it to the Heiligenkreuz Abbey, where it is still on display. By the way, Leopold was the character who captured and detained Richard the Lionheart on the latter’s return from the Crusades. For this, Leopold was excommunicated. He’s buried here, in the late Gothic Chapter House of the Abbey.

Heiligenkreuz Choir

Heiligenkreuz Choir

THE MONKS at Heiligenkreuz are well-known for their Gregorian Chant; they boast (er, they humbly offer) a best-selling recording of their singing, and they chant their liturgy at the abbey’s collegiate church five times a day. In fact, they see this officially as their chief mission.

The Abbey’s web site offers a link to a YouTube video about their album: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=MLFN-RVpLtk&feature=related.

The 12th century Romanesque naves and transept of the Collegiate Church prompt many whispered oohs and ahhs. The intricately-carved 13th century Gothic wooden choir holds panels depicting Biblical scenes. Do they need another bass voice here?

Moses with Horns

Moses, with Horns

At one end stands a sculpted Moses, tablets in hand, with horns on his head—like Michelangelo’s sculpture. The horns come from the mis-translation of a Torah passage from Hebrew into Latin in the 4th century. Above the panels, there’s still more: lifelike carvings of people and putti.

Heiligenkreuz Organ

Heiligenkreuz Organ

The baroque organ, with its fasces of pipes topped with ornate capitals and trumpeting angel figures, leaves one begging to hear it.

The Altar

The Altar

The altar, with its brightly-lit crucifix is impressive too for the refreshing space around and above it; it’s not physically or artistically crowded, but set off for undistracted attention, as it would need to be, given the other distinct attractions with which it shares this cavernous space.

Chapter House Ceiling

Chapter House Ceiling

The abbey’s Chapter House is graced with frescoes and a circular, stained-glass window recent enough to paint the floor before it with soft, colored light (older specimens don’t). It holds the graves of thirteen Babengergers—the counts and dukes of Byzantine origin who ruled Austria before the famous Habsburgs.

Chapter House

Chapter House

The last of the Bs was the appropriately obscure Duke Frederick the Quarrelsome (couldn’t take that guy out anywhere without his picking a fight with some herdsman, tavern owner or haberdasher!).

Sure enough, his quarreling led him to the battlefield, where he lost his last argument in 1246, extincting the Babenberg line.

Fountain House

Fountain House

The abbey’s passageways hold more, intriguing treasures. One leads past a 13th century Fountain House, used as a washing room until halfway through the 16th century. Its lead basins are encrusted with colorful mineral deposits from its water.

Anointing Jesus' Feet

Anointing Jesus' Feet

Down the passageway and around the corner, not far from the church entrance, one encounters two large wooden duo statues. One depicts Mary Magdalen anointing Jesus’ feet with her precious perfume. The other shows Peter protesting Christ’s washing of the disciple’s feet.

Now and then, we are reminded that Heiligenkreuz is a working, occupied abbey, and not only a museum, as one or more of the young, crisply-dressed monks walk by on their purposeful way somewhere beyond the public spaces we tour.

Trinity Column

Trinity Column

OUTSIDE, in the main courtyard, stands the ornate, early 18th century Column of the Holy Trinity—which depicts the Assumption of Mary, who makes it the celebration, it seems, of a quartet. On this side of the Atlantic, we rarely see the likes of this intricate stone and gilt monument of figurines, plaques, and symbols.

Baden Spa

Baden Spa

NOW IT’S OFF TO BADEN, the mineral-pool spa haven whose name means, what else, “bathing;” or, if you prefer a verb, “have a bath.” But we don’t have time enough for that. We’ll take a stroll through town, peruse the flea market, slurp some good ice cream, and head back to Vienna for more sightseeing (or, in our case, rest).

The thirteen warm baths in this resort town are naturally infused with sulphate of lime, the substance from which they principally derive their bragging rights. The establishments that house them range from traditional to spanking-new Olympic-size swimming pool digs. A tram line runs straight here from Vienna, making it convenient, and not too time-consuming for a Wiener to take a day’s spa holiday.

Homage au Touriste

Homage au Touriste

As with most resort towns, the locals enjoy a love-hate relationship with tourists; don’t really want to live with ‘em; absolutely can’t live without them. Here, they gently vent their annoyance in the form of a life-size, bronze statue of a photo-snapping tourist, lens pointed at the nearest pool spa’s windows. Of course, I point my camera at the statue and snap its photo…

Baden Quartet Column

Baden Quartet Column

During our stroll through town, we find another of those less-unique-all-the-time monumental towers in the middle of the town square. Like the one in the abbey courtyeard, this one’s also dedicated to the Trinity and Mary, and comes surrounded by an apparently recently-installed, intermittent street-level fountain, the kind we find in the middle of some New York City playgrounds.

Rathaus

Rathaus

We chuckle at the classic municipal building across the square, labeled “Rathaus.” It’s city hall; we admire the town’s apparent candor.

AND WE SEE PLAQUES amounting to “Beethoven Slept Here” signs. One Rathausgasse building, No. 10, sports a plaque claiming that the composer lived there in 1821, 1822, and 1823, working on his Ninth Symphony. Our guide tells us there are many such plaques because Beethoven was thrown out of more domiciles than one could count; how many landlords would be fond of housing a petulant musician who had to play loudly enough to feel the music, since he scarcely could hear it?

Beethoven Slept Here

Beethoven Slept Here

Baden’s extensive, varied and colorful flea market lays claim to a distinction few others ever have possessed for us: we really weren’t tempted to buy a thing! One reason was the relative modernity of most of the wares; another might just have been the draconian baggage limits the airlines impose within Europe’s borders. We are bound to a single, 44-pound bag each for five weeks in four climates.Hurrah!

Et Tu, Vienna?

Et Tu, Vienna?

BACK THEN FROM THE WOODS AND BATHS to Vienna and its classic Hapsburg beauty.

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