Under the sign of the Cross

The Christianization of Carinthia



Under the sign of the Cross

Under the sign of the Cross

In the eighth century another wave of Christianization began, initiated by the bishopric of Salzburg. This resulted in the building of the church at Maria Saal among others, and a first monastery at Molzbichl near Spittal. After the creation of the duchy of Carinthia in 976, the following century saw a number of further monastic foundations, mainly by the Benedictine order, including those at St Georgen am Längsee, Ossiach, Gurk, Millstatt, St Paul in the Lavant Valley and Arnoldstein. As centres of religious, economic and intellectual life, these monasteries also reflect the strict regimentation of life in the High Middle Ages.

Splendid security

This splendid chest lock from Maria Saal is one of the finest works of late Gothic blacksmith’s work anywhere in Austria. Probably made in a workshop producing items for a non-local market, its ornamentation and shape dates it to the early fifteenth century. The decorative motif is based on the outline of the facade of a Gothic cathedral, translated in masterly fashion into the small format of a handcrafted object.

An effective helper in need

Dating to around 1510, this figure of St Christopher originally derives from the altar of St James the Great in the fortified church at Tiffen. One of the most popular saints in the late Middle Ages, his image was depicted on the external walls of churches, disseminated in woodblock prints and even immortalized on coins. St Christopher was the protector of travellers and pilgrims but also believed to ward off demons and safeguard against blows of fate.

Carinthian Madonna

This depiction of the Madonna with two angels making music comes from the crypt of the church of St Catherine at Bad Kleinkirchheim. The unusually large monumental panel was originally the central element of a winged altarpiece and was painted around 1460. The artist could have been a Carinthian master who trained in South Tyrol or Styria.

In God’s vineyard

Vineyards, vines and grapes have been favoured motifs of the Jewish and Christian faiths since Old Testament times, with the flowering vine representing Christ or the Virgin Mary, and the birds feeding on the grapes symbolizing the souls of the faithful. Dated 1526, the painted carved relief originally came from the church of St Catherine in St Ulrich near Feldkirchen. The flat-cut carving technique developed in Carinthia in the early sixteenth century as a distant echo of the rich figural altarpiece carving of earlier periods.

In the name of St Elizabeth

The daughter of a prince, Elizabeth established a charitable foundation for the poor in 1229 and according to legend towards the end of her life dedicated herself to the common good as a lowly hospital nurse. All over Europe numerous shrines and hospitals commemorate the saint’s exemplary charitable activity. Originally from the church of the Bürgerspital at St Veit an der Glan, this life-size statue of her came into the holdings of the Carinthian History Society in 1869.

Light into the darkness

From the second half of the eleventh century, churches in the Alpine region gradually adopted the custom of placing several candles in candlesticks on the altar. The candlestick on display must have been made on Eastern French/Netherlandish models in a southern German workshop. Its wide triangular foot is formed from intertwining dragons. The round drip pan is borne by three demonic birds spaced at regular intervals. The depiction of winged animals alludes symbolically to the overcoming of evil through the light of Christ and divine service. 

Passion fruit

At the centre of this chasuble from the eighteenth century is the depiction of a gooseberry. In folk religion the fruit is called Christ’s Thorn, Christ’s Berry or Berry of the Cross in association with the Crown of Thorns. The lining of the chasuble is made of dyed red cloth. The back and front are made from a blue-and-white linen weave. Worked in gold, yellow and white, the embroidery features various floral designs. 

Christian processions

Processional crosses such as this one from the Lesach Valley were common from the end of the thirteenth century. The front shows the crucifixion of Christ with Mary and John the Baptist accompanied by two angels, while on the back is Christ making a gesture of benediction with the four symbols of the Evangelists. The choice of pictorial subjects is taken from the Italo-Byzantine tradition as mediated by the Venetian sphere of influence. The cross was probably made in a Friulian workshop around 1400.

Corpus Christi

From the end of the eleventh century small bronze crosses were commonly used during daily Mass. Symbolizing the understanding of the Eucharist as celebrating the presence of Christ’s blood as sacrificed on the Cross, they were used as standing crosses on the altar and carried during religious processions. The cross on display here in the form of the figure of Christ originally came from the Gurk Valley and was probably made in a Swabian workshop in the middle of the twelfth century.

A protective cloak for the clergy

In antiquity travellers wore a type of mantle, circular or oval in shape, without openings for the hands. Enclosing the wearer like a ‘little house’ (Lat. ‘casula’), it protected them from the rain, snow and cold. A ruling from the ninth century stipulated that the clothing of priests should be clearly differentiated from that of the lay population but should not be overly ostentatious. The chasuble duly became the vestment of priests celebrating Mass. The cut and style of the chasuble differed from country to country.

A riot of blossom from the Valley of the Roses

The back of this seventeenth-century chasuble from the Rosental (Rose Valley) shows a crucifixion group including Jesus, his mother Mary and one of his disciples, probably John the Baptist. Here the Redeemer is not hanging on a cross but a tree with hacked-off branches.

The scene is framed with a wealth of embroidered tulips, narcissi and carnations. Narcissi or Lent lilies are a Christian symbol for the Resurrection of Christ. The carnations stand both for the nails of the Cross and – like the tulips – for divine love.

St Anthony with the Christ Child

The back of this seventeenth-century chasuble from the parish of Damtschach is richly decorated with floral embroidery featuring carnations and lilies. On the orphrey is a representation of a mystical vision of St Anthony of Padua.

Leather chasuble

In the eighteenth century a trend arose for chasubles made of leather which were gilded like leather wall hangings. In contrast to other chasubles the floral design here is not embroidered but stamped or painted. While it makes a rather lifeless, stiff impression, it was doubtless easier to care for in comparison with those made of textiles, since all that was needed for repairs was a little paint or gold leaf. The late-eighteenth century chasuble displayed here is richly decorated with various flowers. The front is shorter than the back, a typical feature of leather chasubles.

Treasures from the scriptorium

Veritable masterpieces of book illumination were created at the desks of medieval scriptoria. Prior to the invention of the printing press, the copying of books was a laborious process and one that demanded considerable artistic skill. The possession of books was thus a luxury that only the religious and secular elites could afford. 

The monasteries of Carinthia

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