Angels Like You and Me

Stephansdom Comes to Life by Linking Art with Spirituality

Stefan W. Knor’s angel sculpture

Stefan W. Knor’s angel sculpture covering the main altar of Stephansdom | Photo: Matthias Wurz

Early June, I passed Stephansdom at about 9.30 pm, and I noticed that the cathedal gates were widely open. I stopped and had a look inside, and as soon as I passed the threshold, the view was out of this world. Heaven, in a cascade of bright and blue-dimmed lightning seemed to have descended to earth and taken a place inside.

In fact, the seating area except for services held, was fully accessible that night, and people wandered about, stood in amazement or just contemplated in the dimmed light. I entered the main nave and was immediately caught by the calm atmosphere, created by the partial illumination of statues and baroque side altars, to a background of medieval chant – as it turned out, not live, but from recordings played unobtrusively from speakers nearby.

Only when I approached the front toward the maginficent high altar, built in exquisite 17th century marble, was I completely covered by white panels in the shapes of a dove or an angel. Preceding the sanctuary, there were more triangular panels hanging up a few meters above the ground between the massive Gothic columns, and images close-up faces were projected onto them, fading in and after a few seconds fading out.

While I am standing in amazement and watching the light-sculpture evolve, I received a tap on my shoulder; a church warden handed me a leaflet, which, he indicated with a gentle gesture, referred to this event.

‘’Es müssen nicht Männer mit Flügeln sein, die Engeln’’ (‘’Angels do not have to be men with wings’’) is the title of this project, by German artist Stefan W Knor. It was on display daily through June from 20.00 – 22.00 after the late evening mass. The project was privately sponsored. The timing, however, considering with the European Foolball Championships taking place right now, was not entirely accidental.

The installation was an extension to the ongoing football events, the warden explained, an invitation  to spiritual contemplation for some of the 100,000s of visitors. And, of course, the  cathedral hopes to raise more small donations to help with renovations.

However, I wonder what the face projection means and what the relation is to the angel symbolism. The explanantion for the concept came in a foreword to the brochure by clergyman Toni Faber:  “Even we as ourselves can be angels for other human beings,” he writes, inviting  everyone to discover and experience the cathedral in a new way. “Heaven and Earth touch each other there.”

So, I sit down on on one of the wooden benches and immerse myself in the world of the spiritual that hangs suspended in the ambiance of these ancient walls.

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