Klosterneuburg – II

Here are some more odds and ends from my stay at Klosterneuburg Abbey. Another view of the Abbey’s nice church:

The towers were added later, and you can see that a different (darker) type of stone was used for one of them. Whoops.

The interior of the church (which I did not photograph, given that all I had was my cell phone camera), which was originally Romanesque, later underwent Gothic and Baroque embellishments and additions. It is quite impressive. The abbey complex was equally impressive.

Some people today (of the cynical and narrow-minded variety) would drive up to this abbey and think, “What opulence! See, those Catholics spend money on impressive buildings and live in luxury while the poor languish outside!” But that is simply ignorance, and if they say it while they are still driving, it is ignorance on parade.

A significant portion of the abbey complex served as a palace for the emperor. The part that the priests and brothers live in is, by comparison, much simpler. There are many things of quality in it, but that is because they are meant to last hundreds of years. And one only has to read history and the lives of the saints to understand how formidable abbeys like this were in serving even the poor.

(I have written about this subject before in the post “Beauty in Our Churches and Institutions“.)

As was and is the case with many religious institutions throughout Europe (and throughout the world), they have played an important role in the conservation of beautiful things so that they can be enjoyed by a wide audience across many generations. They understood that we should give the best that we have to God, and use the best things we can in our worship of Him. They also did not see dollar signs, so to speak, whenever they looked at a piece of art, as if it were a commodity; rather, they understood that art was something to be pursued and enjoyed for its own sake.

Beauty makes life better.

While I could have photographed hundreds of fascinating items from the abbey’s museum, here are just two of a type that I had never seen before in other museums I’ve visited:

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

What are they?

They are scenes of the Last Judgment, delicately carved out of single pieces of ivory (and not pieced together!). They measured probably about 9 or 10 inches tall.

I was told that what makes these pieces even more remarkable is the fact that ivory cannot be carved using a knife (i.e., gently scraping away the material), but rather is carved with something like a chisel (involving more force – and more skill).

Obviously these things were made during a time when people had, well, more time. And probably longer attention spans. Imagine how much concentration had to go into carving such tiny figures, and conceiving them in relation to the whole out of a single piece of material! Such skill.

Besides the fact that it is now illegal to do just about anything with ivory (perhaps for good reasons), I wonder if there is anyone left in the world capable of doing this kind of work? There are probably a few people – I’d like to think, anyway.

So getting to the subject that is carved, at the top of each figure is Christ, the Just Judge, surrounded by saints; as you go down there are angels extending ladders to individuals to help them get into heaven (an allegory of how the angels help us so powerfully), and the further down you go there are demons dragging people into hell and even devouring them.

The contemptuous cynics who criticize the creation and ownership of such works of art would do well to reflect: don’t the wealthy (emperors and the like) who commission and purchase works of art like this need to be saved also? Isn’t it good that they reflect on such subjects as are portrayed in these works of art?!

Getting down off my soap box, we move on to another interesting sight that I always enjoy seeing in this part of Europe: a plague monument.

The Marian column in the town of Klosterneuburg.

If I am not mistaken, it became popular to put up columns/monuments like this, often ornately decorated in the Baroque style, towards the end of the 17th century. Most of the monuments are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary or to the Holy Trinity – there is a particularly imposing one of this type in Vienna.

The stated purpose of these monuments was to give thanks to God for delivering the city from the ravages of the Plague. However, one of the Augustinian canons, an Austrian native, told me that “the plague” here was understood to refer not only to the sickness that we’ve all learned about, but also to the plagues of the Turkish invasions and the Protestants! Now that is not politically correct! While I am sure that Brother would never lie, I would like to know if any historians have noted this in their study of Austrian history…

Speaking of the Plague, here are some spoons that were used for the safer distribution of Holy Communion during that time. Folks were probably instructed to open wide, and the priest would have sort of “deposited” the Host in their mouth without touching their tongue or lips. If you’ve ever been to a Byzantine Divine Liturgy, you know how it’s done.

Also in the Treasury at Vienna’s Cathedral.

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