This past Thursday, March 12th, marked the 650th Anniversary of the University of Vienna. Being the oldest University in the German-speaking world, this entire school year is filled with celebrations all over the city. Being a member of the Chor der Universität Wien (University of Vienna Choir) I was able to be a part of the celebrations.
The establishment of the University also happens to coincide with the year St. Stephan’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) went from a mere parish church to a recognized Cathedral in 1365. Therefore, Thursday’s activities were held in St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
A very formal affair, the choir and orchestra were placed in their usual corner with a fairly good view of all activities. The University officials, all dressed in their formal academic robes and hats processed behind cardinals, bishops, and the priests. Both members of the faculty and officials of the church spoke. It was an interesting experience for me; singing the Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein (an American) and watching this celebration connecting Church and State. I am so used to the U.S.’s adamant separation of religion from state matters, and here I was celebrating the 650 years of history of both a Cathedral and University in a country quickly changing from being dominated by the Catholic faith.
I did notice some members of the choir, who are also students at the University, questioning the decision to celebrate such a milestone in the Cathedral-especially with Church officials dominant in the processional and presentation. Things are changing and students at the university are no longer all Christian from West and Central Europe.
Regardless, the celebration of this milestone for the cathedral and the university was a special experience. The United States cannot boast anything similarly historic. It was a treat to be involved; Also, it was my first concert with the choir! Although the week was filled with late rehearsals and I was exhausted by Friday, it was worth it. And now I get to look forward to my Birthday week!
Until next time!