Imago Dei 2013


The Minorite Church in Krems-Stein is one of the oldest Mendicant order’s churches North of the Alps.

The monastery was probably found in 1224 by King Andreas II from Hungary—during the lifetime of the order’s father Frank from Assisi (1181/82 – 1226) and in the same year as Vienna’s Minorite monastery’s foundation. However, all sources about the foundation origin from much later times.

The early times of the Minorites in Austria

Despite the unconfirmed information about the order’s foundation, it is save to date the first appearance of the "Minorite brothers" ("fratres minores") in Austria during the reigning period of Duke Leopold IV (thus before 1230).

The Franciscan order rule to follow Christ in a life of poverty and humbleness was, in a weakened form, confirmed by the Pope in 1223. Other than similar reformation movements that had been coming up since the 11th century and revolted against the representatives of the official church, followers of Franz von Assisi’s doctrine were not being traced down as heretics: to integrate them into the community of the church appeared to be wiser than the attempt to turn them down.

Despite some first resistance and breakdowns the order spread quickly South and North of the Alps. During the first half of the 13th century Vienna and Stein were followed by further monastery foundations in Tulln, Graz, Linz and other places.

St. Ulrich church consecration in Krems-Stein

The first written evidence of the Minorite monastery’s existence in Stein an der Donau dates back to the year 1253: the authorities of the Stein Minorites are mentioned in a document by King Ottokar from Bohemia. In 1264 the late Romanic, three-nave pier basilica (the nave of today’s church) was consecrated to Saint Ulrich by Bishop Berthold from Bamberg.

The nave

The clear and simple design of this church, which lacks any transepts and follows the room impression of the Romanic style, lives up to the original definition and assignment of an ecclesiastic order’s church. Before the construction of today’s quire, the pulpit was obviously situated in the middle of the Northern longitudinal wall. Originally, the church carried a wooden ceiling, which was soon (as one of the first churches of the order) replaced by a sexpartite Gothic cross-ribbed vault.

The quire

A number of donations in the early 14th century—for instance from Agnes of Kuenring (1302), Friedrich the Beautiful, or Queen Elisabeth from Hungary (1328)—enabled the construction of further parts of the building.

Around 1330 a three-pile, light flooded long quire in the style of the beginning high Gothic era was constructed, reaching South from the central axis to award it the character of a separate chapel, which used to be on the same level, but was separated by the nave through bounds or jubes. The stage-like crypt was only added in 1754, probably hand in hand with the construction of a new high altar.

AllgemeinInnenansichtinnenansicht 3Innenansicht 2innenansicht 1Allgemein

The registry chapel and chapel house

The Gothic registry chapel and a lower-based small chapel house, a balanced windowless single-pile room built around 1300, can be reached from the crypt.

The frescos

In 1950/51 the late Gothic wall and arch paintings of the Minorite church were excavated and restored. According to the simplicity of the church room it can be assumed that no continuous figurative painting ever existed. The hovering, graceful angels in the vault, as well as the image of the enthroned Mother of God with child and benefactors in the zenith of the triumphal arch wall date back to the time around 1400. Two works by an Italian master around 1350 stick out: the image of the crucified on the North wall of the quire and the figure of the suffering man in the nave. They both stand for the high medieval mysticism of devoutness which centered around the following of Christ and suffering as an act of physical self-awareness. Franziskus himself demonstrated the Imitatio Christi to the limits of identification and the adoption of the cicatrices.

In 1982, fragments of a crucifixion and beweeping around 1300 were discovered in the room East of the Northern side nave.

The tower

Instead of the otherwise typical ridge turret, a slim tower was constructed around 1444 in the South of the quire—probably in connection to the restoration works after the destructions during the Hussite wars (1425-31) and a flooding in 1440—which was later on furnished with a Baroque onion helmet.

The monastery

The building—a two-story four-wing construction around a closely squared yard—dates back to the 18th century and integrates single parts from the late Middle Ages and the 17th century.

Unusual usages

Over time, the church was repeatedly deprived of its original purpose. During the Reformation (16th century) it was used as a salt deposit and returned to the Minorites in 1592. After the monastery abolition and profanization of the church in 1796, the church’s furnishing was removed. In 1850, the Stein tobacco factory established a tobacco deposit. Later on, the nave served as headquarter of Stein’s fire brigade. From 1951 onward, the reconstructed church building was repeatedly used as room for art and cultural history exhibitions ("Romanic Art in Austria", "Gothic in Lower Austria", "1000 years of Krems", or "Frank from Assisi").

Since 1992, the Minorite church has hosted a number of exhibitions of the Kunsthalle Krems, as well as musical projects and classical concerts.

With the NÖ Festival-Ges.m.b.H taking over the church rooms (2002) and the following comprehensive renovations of the exterior and interior (until 2004) the possibilities for further programming could be extended.

Architect interiors: Mag. arch. Reinhardt Gallister, Vienna

Architect exteriors: Mag. arch. Ing. Friedrich Göbl, Krems

Acoustic design: Dr. tech. Karl Bernd Quiring, Innsbruck

The church was provided with a completely new heating system (floor heating, floor convectors and airing) and professional event techniques (light and audio) including flexible stage engineering and improved acoustic means.

Outside, a glass pavilion along the Southern side nave was attached to serve as foyer of the main entrance.