Innsbruck is a city of medieval castles and churches. One of the city’s most famous buildings is the Cathedral of St. James, which is located near the Hofburg Palace in the Old City. The church is one of the most significant religious sites in Austria. St. James is also known as St. Jakob Cathedral (Dom zu St. Jakob).
Historical records reveal that a church has occupied the site since 1180. In the 13th century, the Catholic Church erected a house of worship to honor James, one of the 12 apostles. The church was part of the Austrian Way of Santiago de Compostela, an important pilgrimage route during the Middle Ages. The Gothic style structure was the subject of paintings in 1494 and 1556, the last by famed engraver and painter Albrecht Durer. The house of worship became a shrine to the Virgin Mary in 1520 when German painter Lucas Cranach the Elder completed his work known as Mary Help of Christians. The image adorns the ceiling in the altar. When the local congregation gained its independence from the Wilten Abbey, the church became the seat of the St. James Parish in 1643. An earthquake destroyed the building in 1689.
Easily recognizable by its three oxidized domes, the current house of worship was built atop the remnants of the previous basilica. Constructed over a seven-year period during the early 18th century, it is a fine example of Baroque architecture that embodies the prestige of the Hapsburg dynasty. Designed by Johann Georg Fischer and Johan Jakob Herkomer, the exterior façade consists of Quaternary breccias, which was deposited by retreating glaciers. Workers quarried the visually stunning limestone just across the Inn River from slopes above the town of Hotting. Frescos and pink marble columns embellish the interior nave, which is laid out in the shape of a Latin cross. The delicate colors and architectural details impart the illusion of depth. Painters and architects Egid Schor, Johann Georg Schopf and the Asam brothers contributed to the marble altars, columns and statues that provided the frame for Cranach’s earlier work. The chapel contains an ornate empty tomb in honor of Archduke Maximilian who died in 1618.
Two towers flank the concave exterior, which has arch- and oval-shaped windows. A dome rests above the transept crossing in the central portion of the building. One tower contains a large clock that is more than 300 years old. Since 1982, the second tower has housed a 48-bell carillon, which is the largest in Austria. Each day at noon, it peals a musical supplication for peace on earth.
The structure sustained heavy damage in World War II from Allied bombers. Under the supervision of Hans Andre, artisans painstakingly reconstructed the building based upon historical documents and photographs. Upon completion of the work in 1964, the building was designated a cathedral and the seat of the Diocese of Innsbruck, which was created in 1921.
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