A church in Austria: what kind of king is Jesus?
Many schools are increasingly interested in exploring Christianity as a world faith in their religious education and collective worship. In Where in the World? (BRF, 2018), we sketched out some of the many ways Christians around the world express and live out their faith. The study of church buildings provides another useful window into understanding this multicultural and international phenomenon followed by roughly one-third of people on the planet.
Church buildings reflect a country’s history, its human geography and the beliefs and traditions of that branch of the Christian world that uses them. Across the world, many churches of a similar tradition (‘denomination’) will show international similarities in design and usage, while others reflect their local cultures and communities. Each has a story to tell that reflects something of the Jesus story that has affected billions of people through the centuries.
Each of the churches in this series supplements others that can be found in Churches from around the World (BRF, 2019).
As with the collection of crosses from around the world, the overall aim remains the same:
- to enable children and adults to see churches through the eyes of other cultures and traditions;
- to prompt discussion and debate on why they continue to be significant places for so many communities;
- to explore how Christians in a wide variety of places, different times in history and in different circumstances, have lived out their faith together using buildings like this.
Images of this church, a cross on a mountaintop and the coronation orb from the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
Bible link: Jesus is tried by Pilate
Pilate then went back inside. He called Jesus over and asked, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'...
Jesus answered, 'My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. No, my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.'
'So you are a king,' Pilate replied.
'You are saying that I am a king,' Jesus told him. 'I was born into this world to tell about the truth. And everyone who belongs to the truth knows my voice.'
Pilate asked Jesus, 'What is truth?' (John 18:33–38, CEV)
Wondering about the church and this Bible story
This church in Austria was first built as a place next to a monastery where Christian monks could pray and worship God. Since then, it has been rebuilt many times and now has two symmetrical church towers at the front. Each have at their highest point an orb, a symbol of our world, surmounted by a Christian cross. (The orbs are similar to the one held by a British king or queen at their coronation.) Many Austrian mountains also have a cross placed at their summit, a common practice in countries that once considered themselves to be part of ‘Christendom’ (a ‘Christian empire’). Some people who are not Christian would like these crosses taken down.
But here’s the problem… what does it mean to have a cross on top of the world? Does it mean Jesus is king of the world, so everyone ought to be Christians? Or does it mean someone wants Jesus to be king of this world? But Jesus said, 'My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world,' meaning it wasn’t the kind of kingdom that needed soldiers and swords to be strong. There was a moment when some of his disciples tried to make him wear a gold crown and become their king, and he refused. The only crown he ever got to wear was made of thorns, and that was a cruel joke forced on him by some of Pilate’s soldiers.
Or could placing a cross on top of the world be saying, ‘We want Jesus’ kingdom of love and peace and fairness to spread around the whole world, starting with us?’ I wonder what that would mean today, if people acted as if they were part of Jesus’ kingdom? After all, he did say ‘God’s kingdom is here with you’ (Luke 17:21, CEV).
Jesus told his followers to pray like this, inviting God to bring his kingdom into the world.
Our Father in heaven, help us to honour your name.
Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.( Matthew 6:9–13, CEV)
Further questions for discussion
In one large modern Asian country today, churches are being ordered by the government to remove their roof crosses. What do you think of that? What do you think Jesus might say if he saw that happen? What might Christians say? Would you agree with them, and why?
St Michael, Mondsee attracts thousands of tourists each year, especially because it once featured in a famous film called The Sound of Music. How do you think having a famous church affects the people who worship and live there? How might some react positively or negatively? How could a Christian community respond best to tourists visiting their place of worship, that would enable them to present their faith in the best way?
Cross-curricular: art, design and mathematics
Symmetry in design can have a powerful feel-good effect. Do you like to see it in a building? Study a range of buildings – where can we see symmetry being used and where not? Design a symmetrical facade for the front of a new building, similar to St Michael, Mondsee. It can be a church if you like. Will you include towers? Would you add symbols at the top, and if so, to convey what message? Squared paper and mirrors may be useful for this task or the use of a graphics programme in ICT.
This former Benedictine abbey church is based on a monastery site, founded in the eighth century. Many features have been added, adjusted and replaced under the rule of successive abbots in charge of the monastery. The symmetrical double-towered baroque facade was added in the 18th century, to mark the monastery’s 1,000-year anniversary. The towers are 52 metres high. Statues of Peter and Paul adorn the front wall, and each bell tower features a clock and, on the roof, a golden ball (symbolising the world) surmounted by a Christian cross. Shortly after this time, the whole monastery estate was gifted by the Emperor Napoleon to one of his generals, but it now serves the local town as a parish church. The church interior is similarly ornate, and was used for the wedding scene in the 1960s Hollywood film The Sound of Music. As a result, it receives many coach parties of visitors and is one of the most photographed churches in Austria; but it is also well used by the local Christian congregation, who host a variety of events, including special festivals for children and young people.
Church website (in German, can be translated into English with Google Translate)