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Dom (Cathedral) Review
Gurk's claim to fame is its massive Romanesque Dom topped by two onion cupolas and considered the most famous religious landmark in Carinthia. It was founded in the 11th century by Hemma, Countess of Zeltschach, who after losing her two sons and husband decided to turn to religious works. She had two oxen tied before a cart and let them walk until they stopped on their own. At that spot she founded a cloister and gave all her belongings to the church for building a cathedral. Construction on the cathedral itself began in 1040 and ended in 1200.
Hemma wasn't canonized until 1938. Her tomb is in the crypt, whose ceiling, and hence the cathedral itself, is supported by 100 marble pillars. The Hemma-Stein, a small green-slate chair from which she personally supervised construction, is also there and alleged to bring fertility to barren women. In the church itself, the high altar is one of the most important examples of early Baroque in Austria. Note the Pietà by George Rafael Donner, who is sometimes called the Austrian Michelangelo. The 900-square-foot Lenten altar cloth of 1458 shows 99 scenes from the Old and New Testaments—a beautiful example of a Biblia Pauperum, a "poor man's Bible," meant to teach the Scriptures to those who could not read. It is displayed from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. Make sure to visit the bishop's chapel, which features rare late-Romanesque and Gothic frescoes, among the oldest in Europe and in perfect condition (the guidebook in English is helpful).
At the end of August and in early September a concert series is held in the cathedral. Tours are restricted by church services, but in summer 90-minute tours are usually scheduled for 10:30, 1:30, and 3 (though tours can be arranged just about any time), and include the bishop's chapel.
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