One of the most curious sights in Vienna is a museum that was found by accident! The Vergilius Chapel was only rediscovered when they started building the Stephansplatz U-Bahn station. Join us for a visit to one of the best-preserved Gothic interiors in Vienna if not in the world!
The Vergilius Chapel was only discovered - by accident - in 1973 when the Viennese underground was being built. Since 2015, it is a museum and part of the Stephansplatz U3/U1 station. The history of the chapel is not entirely clear but the early Gothic architecture can be dated to the early 13th century. Leopold VI ruled Vienna as Duke of Austria till 1230 after which the last Duke Babenberg, Frederick the Warlike ruled till 1246 - so the chapel might go back to the times of either of them!
Six massive pillars, between which semicircular niches were bricked, formed an underground space with a height of about eleven meters. The niches between the six pillars were vaulted with pointed arches so that a rectangular room could be built on them. Around 1246, the chapel was furnished with the red joint paintings and large wheel crosses in the niches, which are still visible today. In the central axis of the chapel, just in front of the east niche, there is a well, the inside of which is lined with stones. There might have been a second well opposite it as similar constructions have been found in the crypts in some French cathedrals and the Speyer Cathedral, where they are associated with the healing power of neighbouring relics.
Maria Magdalena Church was built later over the chapel. Its outline are still visible in the pavement around St. Stephen’s Square - check it when you come to the museum!
The original building served as a private chapel of a rich Viennese merchant family. Among other things, it included an altar for St. Vergilius giving the name to the chapel. The first written sources go back to early 14th century. Archbishop Konrad von Salzburg mentions the chapel dedicated to Saint Virgil on St Stephansfreithof in a certificate of indulgence from 1307. In 1340, Andre Chrannest describes it as his father's chapel located on the Stephansfreithof under the new ossuary. Andre's father was mint master Wernhard Chrannest (in office 1295-1313), and brother of mayor Heinrich Chrannest. The family had become wealthy in cloth trade in Salzburg.
By 1300 the vault that is still visible in the rear today was drawn in and the floor above Virgil chapel served as an ossuary for the bones from the abandoned graves as it was slightly below the ground level and was accessible from the Stephansfreithof. In 1486, the mayor of Vienna concluded a contract allowing the use of a basement of the Teutonic Order house next to the Stephansfreithof, as a charnel house and the ossuary was left open. In the 14th century, Maria Magdalena Chapel, the seat of the Schreiber Zeche, was built above Virgil Chapel. The altar of the corpse of God is explicitly mentioned in 1589. When Maria Magdalena Chapel was demolished after a fire in 1781, the underground rooms were filled with rubble and the building fell into oblivion.
It is almost funny that the chapel was only discovered during construction of the Vienna U-Bahn in 1973. Today there is a mosaic on the Stephansplatz showing the outlines of Virgilius Chapel and you can take a look at the illuminated chapel through a large window in the U-Bahn station.
The chapel itself has survived with hardly any damage and thus, we can enjoy a perfect glance into the Middle Ages. The renovated chapel was reopened in 2015 as a "Museum of the Middle Ages”. The Estonian composer Arco Pärt composed “Litany” for the occasion.
The underground crypt is rectangular in form (approximately 6 m by 10 m), with six niches about 12 meters beneath the Stephansplatz. It is one of the best-preserved Gothic interior spaces in Vienna highlighting a fascinating sacred space, and a compact exhibition offering a historical outline of medieval Vienna
The museum is accessible barrier-free with the Wiener Linien lifts but it is a bit complicated. First, you should buy your ticket at the museums ticket counter and tell the on-site staff that you need to use the barrier-free access. You need to take the Stephansplatz/Haas-Haus lift first to the cash desk and shop area. From there, take the U-Bahn lift to level U3 (direction Simmering) where you will have a barrier-free access to Virgil chapel. The chapel has no steps and is wheelchair accessible. An exhibition of old Viennese ceramics is open to visitors in the vestibule of the chapel, barrier free.
There are several parking spaces for people with disabilities in the area around Stephansplatz, for example at Singerstrasse 7 and 12-16 and at Spiegelgasse 3-11.
There is no café in the museum but Stephansplatz is full of them - just pick up yours. As there is no loo in the museum, spare your visit to the café or go to the one at the U-Bahn station.
There is a small museum shop at the ticket desk.
Stephansplatz, U-Bahnstation/metro station , 1010 Vienna