After three hours sleep Saturday night (body system is still very, very confused) Fr. EJB and I had as many hours to explore the city of Vienna before departing for Cologne.
Since the hotel was located in the first district, we took a hike around the ring, which took us through the district, straight up to the Cathedral of St. Stephen. The structure is enormous and awesome to behold. The spire itself (although currently under construction) towers over the city impressively. Sadly, as you can tell somewhat from the photo, the roof seems to have been redone, most likely in the 70s or therabouts. Rather than the decrepit but still authentic rusted copper that remains on some lower roof sections, the main roofing is now a garish collection of pastel tiles which completely clash from the rest of the cathedral.
The interior remains wonderfully authentic, untouched by modern renovations. Beautiful statuary, awe-inspiring paintings, etc. It puts anything American, including the national shrine in Washington, to shame. This is the real thing, no pale imitation. You could spend hours in every corner, real enough to imagine you are still in the twilight of the Medieval era.
We caught a mass at the cathedral, which was packed out with tourists. The liturgical confusion in the congregation, though predictable, was a sad reminder of the failed implementation of concilar reform. Throughout the Eucharistic prayer, every three seconds one group would stand, another would kneel, and another would sit, and three seconds later they would alternate. Some knelt for the preface, stood for the words of institution, and then sat for the memorial acclamation. No one really seemed to know what to do.
Again, I will have my own pictures of the interior in good time. As in the Medieval period, the cathedral still functions as the town center, and the area around it still has the public, near festive atmosphere it would have had five hundred years ago, with beggars, pantomimes, public demonstrations, pilgrims singing spontaneous hymns, speeches and vendors, etc.
After the cathedral we walked two blocks down to investigate a church structure we had seen from the square. It was a round structure, old in architectural style but clearly built or renovated very recently. The Church of St. Peter.
This was the surprise, and the high point, of the whole trip to Vienna. If anyone goes to Vienna they must spend a few hours here. To walk inside is to feel as though you have walked through the gates of Paradise. It is the most ornate and incredible church interior I have ever seen. Beautiful paintings (including a stunning dome), gilded statues, stained glass, etc. Most impressive of all, it was all clearly brand new, shining and spotless, clean and fresh. Yet the style was reminiscent of the fifteenth century, Renaissance period. You could really believe you were living during that time, because nothing in the church had aged. In two side chapels were full skeletons of early Roman martyrs (Benedict and Donatus, not to be confused with the founder of the religious order or the heretic), on full display encased in glass underneath altars, still dressed in their decayed garments. Over the high altar (note: there was no other altar, which is the first thing that got me wondering) was a great painting of St. Peter healing the leper at the gates of the temple. The clash between this church, recently built and almost excessively ornate (think lots and lots and lots of money) and the cathedral (equally beautiful, but rusted, crumbling and desparately in need of repair - think no money) is the second thing that got me thinking. The discrepancy told me immediately that this church must not belong to the Archdiocese of Vienna. There is no way the Archdiocese would build or restore this church and leave the cathedral in shambles. 'Wealthy lay fraternity' was ringing in my head. The back of the church had no gift shop, but prayer cards to St. Jose Maria Escriva in eight languages. Viola. Think what you will, never before had I been in a church which made me think, if only for a second, that heaven could only be a downer after seeing this (just for a second, of course).
After lingering around St. Peter's for a while (I desparately wanted to stay for a mass, but there was no time), we trucked back to the hotel, and then off to the airport for Cologne. We arrived in Cologne late Sunday night, and I write from the Cologne hotel at the moment. I'll have much more to report about Cologne, 'Day 1' proper of World Youth Day. Probably later tonight.
Please, in the meantime, keep the young people here deeply in your prayers. It is a time of great opportunity for spiritual renewal, and conversion, for many. For many, it will be the greatest such opportunity; for others, it may be the only. Intercede for the salvation of many souls here.