Salzburg Cathedral: Architecture of Beauty and History

Salzburg Cathedral
The Salzburg Cathedral, known as the Salzburger Dom, has been the site of sacred festivals, processions, religious services and concerts since the Middle Ages. It is the annual venue for one of the opening weekend concerts of the Salzburg Festival. Consecrated in 1628, the Salzburg Cathedral is an example of early Baroque architecture that combines beauty with the history of a city referred to as the “Rome of the north.”

Prior to the early 19th century, Salzburg was part of the Holy Roman Empire and ruled by prince-archbishops. Each cathedral built on the site has reflected the city’s ecclesiastical significance. The first one, dedicated in 774, was in honor of Saint Vergilius (Virgil) of Salzburg, who built the cathedral, and Saint Rupert, who founded Salzburg. The Virgil Dom, as it was called, was destroyed by fire in 1167 along with other churches and buildings in the city. Archbishop Conrad III, who came into power in 1177, had the cathedral rebuilt so that it was larger and more ornate than the emperor’s cathedral in Speyer, Germany. This made the Romanesque cathedral in Salzburg the largest one north of the Alps.

A large portion of the cathedral was destroyed in another fire, 400 years later, Dec. 11, 1598. Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau had already begun his plan to change medieval Salzburg into a city filled with Baroque architecture. The fire provided his justification for tearing down the cathedral. He commissioned a new one to be designed by the Italian architect, Vincenzo Scamozzi, who also designed other notable buildings in Salzburg including the archbishop’s residential palace.

Salzburg Cathedral
Santino Solari – architect of Salzburg Cathedral

Plans for the new cathedral were stopped due to Raitenau’s conflict with the duke of Bavaria, Maximilian I, over salt mining rights. The archbishop was arrested and put in prison by his successor and nephew, Markus Sittikus von Hohenems. The new prince-archbishop moved forward with building a new cathedral. He commissioned architect Santino Solari to design it and oversee the construction. It was completed after the death of Sittikus, during the reign of his successor, Paris Lodron, and was the first early Baroque church north of the Alps.

The Salzburg Cathedral was consecrated on Sept. 25, 1628 by Archbishop Lodron with a large festival that celebrated the architectural beauty and historic significance of the Dom. Stefano Bernardi, the music director of the Salzburg court, composed a Te Deum for 12 choirs standing in the marble galleries. The festivities took place during the Thirty Years’ War but Lodron had seen to it that Salzburg was well protected. He also kept the city out of the war with his political and diplomatic abilities.

The cathedral is in the Old Town or Altstadt section of Salzburg. The two oldest bells in the cathedral were cast in 1628. Statues, sculptures and paintings range from the coat of arms of various prince-archbishops to Christian saints, Old Testament prophets and the life and resurrection of Christ. Visitors can also see the baptismal font used for the baptism of the composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Many of his sacred works were performed in the cathedral while he was court organist and concert master. The last prince-archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo, was Mozart’s patron.

Salzburg Cathedral
Salzburg Cathedral side view

The outside steps leading to the entrance form a natural stage where the morality play, Jedermann, was first performed in 1920 as part of the Salzburg Festival. This area faces the Cathedral Square or Domplatz. The dome and chancel areas were destroyed by a bomb in 1944, during World War II. The damaged portion was completely restored and the cathedral was consecrated for a third time in 1959.

The Salzburg Cathedral is an example of early Baroque architecture that combined beauty with religious and political history. The entire historic center of the city, including the cathedral, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more information, the website listed below has the cathedral’s schedule and tour information.

By Cynthia Collins

Related articles:
Salzburg Festival: Austria’s Annual Tribute to Music, Arts and Culture
Mozart Birthplace Museum Depicts Early Life of Salzburg Composer


Salzburg Cathedral – Schedule and Tours

Salzburg Museum – The “Italian” City

Paris Lodron – Prince Archbishop of Salzburg

UNESCO – Salzburg

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