Going to church at 2159 metres high: it is possible in Austria


Central Europe

Editorial desk of Church affairs, RD

The Maria am Heiligen Stein. The highest mountain church in Europe. Photo Getty Images

Where in Austria is the oldest church building located? Which parish has the highest number of members? The Austrian church magazine Inpuncto found out.

Elections for the local parish councils were held on March 20th in the Alpine country. Inpuncto, therefore, thought it was time to place the Roman Catholic parishes in Austria in the spotlight. The diocese of Vienna recently reported about these on its website.

There are 3,016 parishes and 1,276 other pastoral care institutions in Austria. The smallest parish is in Wölfnitz an der Saualpe in Carinthia. It has 34 members. The parish of Pfarre zur Frohen Botschaft in Vienna is the largest, with 15,236 members.

The Salvenkirche in Westendorf was built at an altitude of 1,829 metres in the Hohe Salve ski area. The small church is located on a steep hill and overlooks the Brixental Valley. The Salvenkirche was first mentioned in 1589. It is the highest pilgrimage church in Austria.

However, the Marterle Church in the parish of Rangersdorf in the Mölltal is still a few meters higher. And then there is the church Maria am Heiligen Stein on the Dobratsch, in the municipality of Bleiberg. It is located at an altitude of 2159 meters: the highest mountain church in Europe. In the parish of Prägraten in East Tyrol, 27 mountain peaks are higher than 3000 meters.

The Ruprechtskirche in Vienna, the oldest church of Austria. Photo Wikimedia

City Church

The oldest surviving church in Austria is the Ruprechtskirche in Vienna. It was built around the year 740. This is followed by the St. Ulrich Church in Thaur near Innsbruck, which was built around 750, and the Martinskirche on the Römerberg in Linz (799).

There are a total of 11,905 religious buildings in Austria, including cemeteries and chapels that are listed as historical monuments. They, therefore, account for more than a quarter of the total number of buildings with monument status. These buildings also include the first and probably only 'pass through' church, the Kreuzbichel chapel in the parish of Gmünd in Carinthia. The eastern part of this was built in 1754, in 1784, the gallery room on the other side of the street was added.


Parishes are also known for their volunteer work. About 28,000 elected parish councillors are volunteers. The parishes employ a total of more than 300,000 volunteers. In comparison, the Red Cross employs more than 70,000 volunteers and the Austrian fire brigade around 340,000.

A 'drive-through' church in Kreuzbichelkapel. Photo Wikimedia

Almost all age groups are involved in volunteering. In the Mostviertler parish of Purgstall an der Erlauf there are 100 active altar servers and maidservants; fifteen years ago, there were still two hundred in total.

The parish newspapers set a record: together, they are by far the most printed medium in the country. At least 97 per cent of the parishes publish their own magazine. It is estimated that there are 2,943 in Austria, together accounting for a circulation of 6 million copies.

This article was translated by CNE.news and previously published in Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on April 5th, 2022.



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