Knocking on Heaven’s Door | These Austrian Churches Are for Sale

By Margarita Randl and Dardis McNamee

While they may be consecrated ground and centuries old, to the Archdiocese, houses of worship are, in the end, bricks and mortar – in short, real estate. So when the congregations and ceremonies for which they were built have dwindled, it may be better to let them go before the costs of repair threaten those that remain.  

The reasons for a sell-off may vary – from declining membership, to duplication by other (perhaps more usable) churches a few blocks away. But in the end, it’s a management decision, not a sentimental or religious one. The Church is as much as anything, an institution, and one of the largest land and property owners in Austria.

At the moment, there are two churches on the block: One, the Saint Augustin Church in Korneuburg, too small for some of the essential ecclesiastical events, and over shadowed by a far better equipped diocesan church nearby. An elegant baroque structure dating from 1758, the classic facade in imperial yellow is framed with trompe l’oeil columns of showy white, opening to a rococo interior adorned with playful statuary, Corinthian acanthus leaves and religious frescos once part of the next door. Both are to be sold as a package to “a suitable bidder,” according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese. Price not published, but presumably available on request.

Setting for local cultural events

The decision did not come as a surprise to the neighborhood according to Andrea Zimmermann, assistant to the local priest; the building is no longer used for services and is now a setting for local cultural events. But the concern over its future use is undeniable.

“A dignified use by any successor is what we would hope for,” said Dr. Michael Prüller from the Vienna Archdioces. A common solution is often to sell to other religious bodies – something easier to manage in big cities, where an affluent international community is often interested in establishing a cultural home, but almost impossible in smaller towns in the countryside. In Vienna, the Lainzer Church in the 13th district, was conveyed to the Syrian Orthodox Community, while the Florianikapelle in Stockerau is now a private home.

Although usually under historic landmark protection, the use of former churches is otherwise not limited by law and is subject to case-by-case agreements. The Bürgerspitalkapelle in Stockerau, dedicated to Saint Sebastian, sold in 2018 to become a “columbaria”, with walls full of niches for funeral urns. A small, less ornate building, with a single, central nave was originally a hospital chapel later re-dedicated as a Protestant church after it´s renovation in 1892, and finally de-consecrated in 1941. Now with an apartment house attached, the former church is back on the market.  With no restrictions on use, neighbors can only hope that any future owner will bring to it ideas worthy of this proud building, consecrated by the faith of the many who once worshipped there.

(Foto: © Bwag_Wikimedia)

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