During the centuries St. Stephen acquired many different meanings and one of these is the memory of the wars against the Ottoman Empire. Vienna was besieged twice in history by Turkish troops, in 1529 and 1683. At the top of the southern tower there was a certain symbol, a crescent and a star until 1687. After the 2nd siege the citizens of Vienna did not want to see this symbol for the pope and the emperor that remembered them of the Muslim invaders. Some Turkish cannon balls are integrated in walls of the cathedral and the biggest bell, the “Pummerin” was made 1711 out of the metal of cannons and stayed in the southern tower until its destruction in 1945. The best known general of the Habsburg monarchy in the wars against the Ottoman Empire, Prince Eugen von Savoyen, is buried inside the dome in the Tirna-Chapel since his death in 1736.
Still strongly present today is the former cemetery around St. Stephen in form of tombstones on the walls inside and outside. They are dedicated to citizens of Vienna, professors of the university as the humanist Konrad Celtis. The cemetery dates back to roman times and was shut down in the 18th century, when the surrounding houses around the cathedral were removed; in the second half of the 19th century the Graben was connected with the Stephensplatz, allowing the famous view of the dome from the southwest. Over 900 inscriptions of graves on the dome are a hint that St. Stephen was an important site of remembrance of relatives.
The Burning Cathedral in 1945
The Cathedral during recent Centuries
In the course of the centuries St. Stephen was damaged by wars, earthquakes, smoke and the weather; the troops of Napoleon for instance shot at the southern tower and damaged it so badly that it had to be partly reconstructed at the end of the 19th century. Responsible was the master builder Friedrich Schmidt, an architect that constructed a big number of churches in Austria. This is only one example for the fact that the cathedral was being conservated by constant change as society is. In the 20th century there should be some changes that deeply affect the cathedral and Austria.
No damage took the cathedral during WW1 and during the time between the wars. The bombing raids that began 1943 during WW2 did not damage St. Stephen either, only as soviet troops attacked and the “Battle of Vienna” began, the dome was repeatedly damaged by artillery and bombs without much destruction at first. The water supply of the dome, however, was severely hit, leaving the fire fighters without means to fight any burnings. The truss was impregnated by a special chemical product made by IG Farben that should reduce the inflammability of the wood that survived so many centuries. Important pieces of art, such as the tomb of Friedrich III. were secured by surrounding walls of bricks. One day after the first soviet soldiers set their feet on the place before St. Stephen, on the 11thof April 1945, the southern tower was hit several times and surrounding houses started to burn. The fire widened until twilight and the southern tower caught ire. Some fire sources developed quickly, the bells fell down and were destroyed, among them the famous “Pummerin”. On the 13th of April a wall made of bricks in the truss above the eastern choir collapsed and destroyed parts of the middle- and southern choir. The catastrophe did a lot of damage to St. Stephen, the centuries old truss, four of the nine bells, parts of the choirs and many pieces of art were destroyed.