St. Francis in Vienna

On a Saturday evening late in November, we wandered into an out-of-the-way Vienna church where we heard music.  We were greeted with smiles and given slim wax candles and a musical score including words, some in German and some in English. We took seats toward the back of the beautiful Gothic church lit only by candles and settled in to listen to the choir and small orchestra.  The music was simple, not grandiose. After puzzling over the program, we realized that the music came from the Taize community in Burgundy, France. This is an ecumenical community especially concerned with young people, with a focus on simplicity, peace and reconciliation. Our local church in Colorado often uses small hymnals from Taize, so the music was somewhat familiar.  Halfway through the program, there was a period of silence (“Stille” on the program). Singers and musicians left their places and dispersed into the congregation.  Far from being a bore, the silence was profoundly peaceful.  In the back of the church, a few people left, but more kept arriving, each welcomed with a lit candle.  We noticed two people arriving with dogs.  They chose places at the very back of the church, next to the door.  But the dogs settled down immediately and curled up at their owners’ feet.  Only later did we learn that this was a Franciscan church.  Of course animals would be welcome in the home of St. Francis.

After the silence, a priest or monk stood up and spoke quietly for a couple of minutes.  Then the music resumed. We learned later that this was the Minoriten Church, built on land given to the Franciscans in the 1200s. It was built in the French Gothic style and never much altered.  At one point, it became an Italian church with the name ” Church of Mary of the Snows,” which it retains today.

We were amazed that our candles burned cleanly the whole time without a single drip.  Actually, the whole experience seemed like a small miracle in the hustle and bustle of Vienna shoppers and revelers:  a peaceful hour spent in a Gothic church that has stood since 1350, listening to sublime music and watching candlelight flicker on the ancient stone columns.

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