The Divided Church of Gmünd

Dec 12, 2023 0 comments

Near the town of Gmünd in the Austrian state of Carinthia stands the Divided Church (Geteilte Kirche am Kreuzbichl), so called because it is spilt into two by a road that runs through. On one side of the road there is the chancel and on the other side is a two-story gallery where church visitors can sit and listen to the sermon from the chancel across the street. This arrangement is quite unique in this world.

At the spot where the church now stands originally stood a roadside shrine called “Kreuz am Bichl” (cross of the hills). These wayside shrines called Marterl are common in Bavaria and provides a place for travelers to stop and pray. This particular Marterl stood on the road from Venice to Salzburg, an important trade route at the time, and Gmünd was a popular stop on the way. Gmünd is also where the dangerous journey over the mountain passes began.

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

“The wayside shrine may have been set up to ask for blessings on the journey or to say thank you for a happy journey upon return,” says Anton Fritz, a member of the board of the Gmünd city association.

The shrine also marked the boundary of the Gmündner Burgfrieden. Later on, when the route was used to walk condemned people to the gallows, they halted briefly at the shrine and said their final prayers.

In 1748, the shrine was converted into a chapel with an apse and a double-sided staircase at the front. The chancel is located about two meters above street level, and is opened on the street side by a large round arch and protected from the street by a wrought iron grille. Worshippers gathered outside on the street in front of the church. Eventually, a pastor felt sorry for the pilgrims who often stood in front of him in the rain, and had a two-story structure built on the opposite side of the road. In this building, there are two rooms with chairs and benches. This building is also open to the road and secured by wrought-iron gates.

Services now takes place in two buildings—the priest stands in one, and congregants in the other. If a vehicle drives through the church during the service, the priest briefly interrupts his sermon. The road is now private so there is little traffic anyway.

In addition to the peculiar division of the church, the church has another specialty—the original fresco in the sanctuary was based on a drawing by Michelangelo. The Italian painter gave the draft to one of his journeymen, Orciel dela Volterra, who brought the painting to Gmünd and adorned it as a fresco in the picture gallery. However, in 1861, the Austrian painter Josef Messner painted over it in oil in an attempt to repair it. The fresco has since been painted over multiple times.

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Johann Jaritz/Wikimedia Commons

# When a car drives through the church, Katholisch
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