Global Conference in Prague, 2023 Top Travel

Vienna’s Gothic masterpiece, St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Tourists visit St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. (YJI photo)

VIENNA – As the most famous landmark in Vienna’s city center, St. Stephen’s Cathedral attracts millions of visitors every year.

Gazing upward toward the pipe organ, columns and ceiling. (YJI photo)
Viktorie Goldmannová/YJI Click on the image to see more ‘Postcards from Prague.’

Though it is large, gothic and intriguing, it was not until I walked into the well-known tourist site that I truly understood the captivity it holds. 

A majestic symphony of stone and light immediately greeted me upon entering the cathedral.

The sunlight danced through the colorful stained glass windows, casting a kaleidoscope of hues on the ancient walls. But despite its intricate and delicate Gothic architecture, the air seemed to be filled with a sense of history and reverence. 

It was my first time in Vienna, my first time in Austria, and I was not sure what to expect.

Views of the cathedral’s inside. (YJI photos)

Previously, when someone mentioned Austria, my mind instantly wandered to the stunning Alpine landscape, the classical music of Mozart and Beethoven and delicious delicacies like apfelstrudel.

I never really considered its rich religious heritage. 

But “Steffl,” as the cathedral is known to locals, is bursting with myths, legends and snippets of the city’s history. 

The photos above show a staircase inside the cathedral and details from the art on display. (YJI photo)

After being damaged in World War II, the cathedral has become a symbol of pride and freedom for the people of Vienna.

Before even considering the grandeur of craftsmanship inside the cathedral building, the roof is an unmissable sight. On one side, it is adorned with tiled patterns with the Austrian coat of arms laid out, creating a mesmerizing mosaic.

But as I overheard a tourist exclaim, the federal eagle in the Austrian coat of arms had been painted facing the wrong way. It’s illegal to alter a coat of arms, so why it has been done in this way is a mystery that remains unsolved.

Online sleuthing didn’t turn up much except the theory that those responsible were more concerned with the artistry and symmetry than the legalities.

Inside the cathedral, the artistry is no different. The Gothic influences are apparent throughout the vast cathedral.

Towards the rear of the sanctuary inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral. (YJI photo)

For example, the tomb of Emperor Frederick III, which can be found inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral is considered a great symbol of the late Gothic period. Its deep, rich red color – symbolic of power, royalty and passion – reflects the significance of the longest reigning head of the Holy Roman Empire. 

My trip to Vienna was only a short, passing one. But visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral was a worthwhile choice of how to spend my time.

At top: an ornate display of a painting in the cathedral and a close up of the painting. On the bottom, candles lit by visitors and a side view of the exterior of the cathedral. (YJI photos)

Sitting on a row of pews staring up at the mesmerizing display of patterns and colors painted onto the glass has only made me want to return and soak up more of Vienna’s history and culture.

And I even feel inspired to take Billy Joel’s famous advice and “slow down,” because in a city bustling with summer tourists, time seemed to stand still in this special, sacred space.

Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Correspondent with Youth Journalism International from Wales.

In front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna are, from left, YJI students Norah Springborn from the United States, the author, Holly Hostettler-Davies of Wales, UK, Regina López of Mexico and Ana Fadul of Colombia.

Read more from YJI’s ‘Postcards from Prague’ series about the 2023 Global Conference

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