The Lenten Veil at Gurk Cathedral

Birgit Stegbauer

During the traditional Ash Wednesday Service the famous Lenten veil is hung up at Gurk Cathedral. This event will mark the start of the fasting period and the veil will shroud the cathedral's main altar until Holy Saturday.


It is a ritual to cover up the altarpieces of churches with simple, uncolored panels of cloth. Sometimes, however, the panels are painted, imprinted or embroidered and are then called Lenten veils. Most of them illustrate scenes from the Passion of Christ. In Carinthia, these Lenten veils have a long, uninterrupted tradition. Most of its more than 40 surviving Lenten veils are still in parochial use, as is the case with the Lenten veil at Gurk Cathedral.


Not only is it Carinthia's oldest preserved Lenten veil, but it is also one of the largest and most beautiful of its kind. It measures 8.87 x 8.87m and covers an area of 88.7 m2. The Gurk Lenten veil originally consisted of two halves that could be drawn like a curtain. It dates back to the year 1458, and was made by Konrad von Friesach, a Carinthian painter who had a workshop at Friesach.

For the Gurk Lenten veil Konrad von Friesach created a pictorial bible, a bible for the illiterate. There are a total of 99 illustrations arranged in vertical blocks.  The 50 pictures on the left half of the veil illustrate themes from the Old Testament, starting with Genesis, the story of the creation. The 49 illustrations on the right half depict themes from the New Testament, culminating in a picture of the Last Judgement that covers a double block. Old and New Testament together form an arc of faith that bend towards the road of salvation for every believing Christian.


To me it is a miracle that this linen cloth with its tempera paintings has survived over the centuries. There is hardly any material more fragile than cloth. It is difficult to preserve and tremendously difficult to restore. This extraordinary piece of art can be admired until Holy Saturday at Gurk Cathedral.


A visit to the crypt of St. Hemma under the main choir of the cathedral is highly recommended. The crypt, with its 100 columns, was completed in 1174 and here one can visit the grave of St. Hemma, founder of Gurk and patron saint of the state of Carinthia.


Travelling time from Villach to Gurk is about an hour

Travelling time from Klagenfurt to Gurk is about 45 minutes

Dom zu Gurk, 9342 Gurk, Domplatz 11


Current opening hours, prices and tour information are available in German here. If you are going on the crypt tour wear warm clothes!

The Klosterladen (cloister bookshop) offers an English guide to the cathedral.


Finish your trip with a visit to Friesach, hometown of Master Konrad von Friesach, and only a 20 minutes drive from Gurk. The town has maintained its medieval atmosphere to a large extent (www.friesach.at).

Reward yourself - despite the Lenten season - with a stop at Cafe-Konditorei Craigher, they are well known for their fine chocolate creations (Hauptplatz 3, 9360 Friesach, www.craigher.at)