Church of Schoengrabern‘For whom the bell tolls!‘ I am tempted to quote, as the church bell started tolling just as I was filming apocalyptic scenes adorning the walls of the famous medieval church in Schöngrabern. The romanesque reliefs on the walls of this parish church are well worth a little excursion to the countryside. They are located just an hour north of Vienna in Lower Austria, close to the town of Hollabrunn.

Insights into the spirituality of medieval Austria

Cain and Abel on the apse of Schöngrabern Church

The most extensive programme of high medieval Austrian sculpture awaits you here! Dating back to the beginning of the 13th century, thus having weathered a good 800 years, the sculptures are remarkably well preserved to this day. They offer precious insights into the spirituality of medieval Austria.

The exterior of the church’s apse is partioned into several panels with carefully organized themes: ‘Fall and Redemption of Man‘ on the south side, ‘Christ in Majesty and Pride‘ on the east and ‘Lust and Purity‘ on the north. The subject matter is closely connected to the positioning of each relief. The reliefs above the windows depict ‘Trinity‘ (south), ‘Hell‘ (east) and ‘Heaven‘ (north). The overall topic of the sculptural programme is the story of the human race from disobedient Adam and Eve in Paradise until the ‘Last Judgement‘ at the end of all times.

Unknown Commissioner

Devil noting naughty deeds

It is unknown who commissioned these sculptures, possibly someone from Passau to which the church belonged. Very interesting to see that scenes from the Old Testament have such a prominence in this particular sculptural programme. Another noteworthy feature is the stark contrast between the typological learnedness shown through the relief themes and the rather crude and primitive style in which they were executed.

List of Naughty Deeds

Even though the church is widely known for these outside reliefs, the interior of the carefully renovated church is definitely also worth seeing, not least for the huge fresco depicting Saint Christophorus, dating back to the 15th century.

On another wall you see my personal favourite, a rather cute devil busily noting the many naughty deeds we all seem to commit – the devil’s reporting not unlike Santa Claus‘ naughty or nice list 😉