Experiencing the Peterskirche is like opening a psychedelic Easter egg.
It looks nice on the outside, with its domes, reliefs and statues. Then when you open it up you’re hit by a dizzying wave of colour and form that is really quite breathtaking.
This Opus Dei-run Baroque church nestles quietly in the centre of Petersplatz square, just off the busy Graben pedestrian area and surrounded by buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries (which makes for good photos of the dome rising at the end of the streets leading to the square):
It’s not huge, with essentially an entrance foyer, the oval-shaped domed area with niches (mini chapels) and the high altar area. But it packs an awful lot of Baroque magnificence into a small space.
Everywhere you look inside there’s a kaleidoscope of ornamental design. If you can, close your eyes when you enter the foyer and get a friend or family member to guide you through the door to the main dome.
Then open your eyes. Wow.
Save the surprise for your visit – or get a preview through the church’s own virtual tour.
There’s a free and formal guide to the church’s interior at the entrance, but here are a few highlights:
- As you face the main altar, don’t forget to look up and behind you to see the Baroque organ built in 1751. Though the word organ is not big enough to properly describe the instrument.
Tip: there are frequent (free) organ recitals and choir performances at the church, with for-fee events in the underground vaults.
- Check the pulpit, which is a little bit more decorated than your average wooden stand.
- Try and view the church on a sunny day. The central dome has a small windowed tower at its centre, with a dove as the representation of the Holy Spirit/Trinity at the very top. When sunlight enters this tower, it creates the effect of light shining out from the symbol.
- Look out for the paintings that create the impression of a bigger structure, such as the artificial dome painted above the entrance to the main altar area.
- Also look for the large portraits around the bottom of the dome – see how the painted projections over the stonework give them a 3D feel.
Tip: the Peterskirche hosts a display of nativity scenes for three weeks during the pre-Christmas period and a smaller display (with Easter scenes) around Easter.
The historical records are incomplete but it’s suggested the first church on this site appeared in the late 4th century. A time when Attila the Hun was still decades away from tweaking the noses of Kings and Emperors across Europe.
A Romanesque church, built somewhere between the 8th and 11th century (depending on who you believe), certainly preceded the current one.
Today’s church was built in the early 18th century, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and designed to mimic in form its famous namesake in Rome (as you can tell from a glance at the main dome). Its official consecration took place in 1733.
St. Peter’s Church is free to visit and open from 7am to 8pm during the week and from 9am to 9pm at the weekend. Check the official website for current information, though.
It’s a working church (priests were receiving confessions during my visit) so be aware of that in terms of your clothing and behaviour of course.
How to get to Peterskirche
As it’s just off the main pedestrianised centre of Vienna, you’ll likely pass it on your sightseeing travels. To reach it via public transport:
Subway: Take the U1/U3 to Stephansplatz and walk up the Graben.
Bus: Lines 1A or 2A to Graben/Petersplatz.
Address: Petersplatz, 1010 Vienna