The top 25 Vienna Legends: #2 / Stephansdom

The towers of St. Stephen's Cathedral

Vienna isn’t complete without Stephansdom. Or, much better, Vienna is not Vienna without Stephansdom. It serves its legions of faithful followers for more than 800 years. Though I am not religious, it is my most favourite spot in Vienna.

The tourists are fond of it too. They never miss a single Vienna itinerary without spending hours taking snapshots of the building, pondering at the odd pictograms, weird statues, strange symbolisms and monuments, dissecting the architecture, adoring the height of the towers, listening to the Pummerin toll each hour.

Although the whole nation boasts 73.6 percent of Roman Catholics, the Viennese slowly begin to lose interest in the religion. But not so with their beloved cathedral that imbues beauty, history and superstitious beliefs at the same time. For the Viennese every time they lay their eyes on the cathedral it exudes pride and reminds them of their ancestors’ rich legacy. Stephansdom is a living proof that the Austrians aim for the best, always reaching for the impossible. And the beauty of Stephansdom is breathtaking. No wonder people then believed that constructing this gigantic building would be impossible without the help of some magical powers.

So do you know what’s up behind the tortured face of the Jesus monument outside of the Old Steven? How about the towers?

The first time I heard of Our Lord of the Toothache I laughed my heart out. The Zahnwehherrgott is the half Jesus statue on the pedestal fronting the Club Stephansdom, next to the flowershop.

According to the legend, the statue used to stand in the cemetery surrounding the cathedral and the people liked to decorate it with wreathes of flowers. One day, an old woman didn’t notice that the wreath slipped a bit to one side and the whole thing looked a bit funny.

One night three men, drunk and in a merry mood, passed by the statue. One of them remarked that Jesus had a toothache. He and his friends burst out laughing disturbing the neighborhood while the men continued to walk home. As they prepared to go to bed the three had a hard time sleeping. Yes, you guessed it right! A severe toothache that knew no remedy tortured the three hapless souls. One of the men couldn’t take it anymore went to the barber (I didn’t know that barbers then did the dentist job!) and demanded that his teeth be removed due to an unbelievable pain.

The barber didn’t find anything wrong with the man’s teeth. It just dawned on his patient that he did something blasphemous. So he ran as fast as he could to the cemetery and threw himself in front of the statue begging for forgiveness. When the pain started to fade away he found out that his comrades were kneeling beside him too obviously for the same reason. Thus, they repented and went home ashamed telling themselves that they wouldn’t do it again.

So what’s up with the towers of the cathedral with their amazing height?

True enough there existed a legend of Master Hans Puchsbaum and the Devil in the North Tower or Eagle Tower. It was said that Hans Puchsbaum had a difficult time finishing the north tower. He was then working under the Master Mason Prachatitz and also happened to be in love with his master’s daughter whose name was Maria. Master Prachatitz seemed to be an old braggart. He didn’t want to see his Maria caught up in a marriage with his apprentice. But he gave him a chance. That is if only Hans could complete the north tower he might change his mind about Hans. Thinking that it was impossible as Hans only started the construction, he fell into a deep depression.

One day, a man in grey suit came up to him all of a sudden while Hans was at work at the tower. The stranger asked the reason for his sadness. Hans told him of his master’s impossible demand that in the end the strange man offered his help. The stranger promised that Hans would be able to complete the tower in one condition: Never ever mention the name of God and all his saints while working on the tower.

Weeks passed and the tower was almost done. When one fine day Hans saw the object of his affection: Maria walking on the street toward the cemetery. Without missing a heartbeat, he called out to her and the Devil, the man in a grey suit, pushed Hans off. They never recovered his body afterward.

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