The first modernist church in Europe.
Architect and urban planner Otto Wagner was already famous by the time he founded the Vienna Secession movement alongside a small group that included Gustav Klimt. The movement sought to break from the aesthetic traditions of the past across all possible mediums of expression.
Wagner’s Church of St. Leopold was built on the grounds of the City of Vienna Psychiatric Hospital between 1904 and 1907. This major project came relatively late in his career, and reflects a mature vision of what he thought a house of worship ought to look like.
There are many ornate focal points in the design, but just as notable are the large swaths of blank white space and the exposed stone foundation, which features unshaped boulders at the base layer that graduate to carved boulders before blooming into the high white walls of the church itself.
Blank space was an important way that the Secession broke with the past. An illustrative feature is the portal on the church’s eastern side, a person-sized recession between two columns that leads only to a blank white surface.
Of special note are the stain glass windows designed by Koloman Moser, which to 21st-century eyes look as close to comic book art as they do to traditional Catholic stained glass.
Know Before You Go
The church is still in daily use by parishioners. Visitors can access the interior on Saturdays and Sundays. Check the Vienna tourism website for the most up to date hours. The Kirche am Steinhof is located in Steinhofgründe, a park with many steep walking trails, so visitors can plan to spend an hour or so strolling in lightly wooded nature before or after visiting.
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