The Sternberg Lenten Veil

Birgit Stegbauer

St. Georg at Sternberg, built halfway between Villach and Velden am Wörthersee, is visible from far thanks to its position on a 733 m high panoramic mountain. This spot has long been appreciated as a spiritual site and is also an esteemed hiking destination. Another Sternberg attraction awaits the visitor in the fasting season, when a Lenten veil from the year 1629 shrouds the main altar during Ash Wednesday  and Good Friday.


Lenten veils, also called Hunger veils, are a specific genre within the arts, linked almost exclusively to Austria's Alpine regions. Whilst elsewhere altars and crucifixes are covered with simple cloths during the period of Lent, Lenten veils impede the view to the whole choir. What is more, the alpine Lenten veils are decorated; depending on their time of origin, they may illustrate complete Bibles. In Carinthia alone about 90 old Lenten veils are preserved, while since the 1980s six contemporary Lenten veils were added to their count.


The Sternberg Lenten veil (4.3 x 3.8 m) is one of the older Lenten veils and its image sequence still has its roots in the medieval tradition: It is divided into an even grid of four rows with 6 scenes each. Its point of departure is the Creation and the Fall of Man, that is, the original sin; it then illustrates how, through the example of Jesus’ life and public ministry, this original sin, and thus death, can be overcome by every faithful Christian.


However, the Sternberg Lenten veil is also a product of its own time: Jacob Katzner's tempera on canvas paintings adopt the style of the late Mannerism and speak directly to the religious sentiment of the contemplator.


Hanns Khevenhüller, by then owner of the Sternberg possessions, donated the Lenten veil to the church in 1629. It was the year of his exile to Franconia, because the noble man refused to renounce his Protestant beliefs and was thus forced to leave the Catholic Hapsburg countries. His leaving present replaced an older Lenten veil of the parish St. Georg.


Once Celts and Romans worshiped their deities at mount Sternberg. Later, in the Middle Ages the Knights of Sternberg, who lived at the nearby castle Hohenwart, chose the place to build a church dedicated to the knights’ saint, St. Georg. The original Romanesque church was designed as a single nave building with a choir belfry and an apse, but was repeatedly expanded over time, and in the 15th century - it was the time of the Turkish raids - surrounded by a defensive wall.


The interior is mostly Baroque. During the fasting season, the Lenten veil conceals the main altar with an equestrian statue of St. George, flanked by statues of St. Sebastian and Florian and to the sides of the tabernacle by Mary and Joseph. The chapel to the left houses a Poor Souls’ altar and a baptistry with a late Gothic top part (around 1490) of good quality. In the south chapel with an altar of Mary, several votive tablets commemorate miraculous help from severe natural events.


Driving up the Sternberg is one option to get there; another approach is a hike from Köstenberg or Damtschach.

The church is open on Sundays.

Parish church Sternberg/Strmec

Sternberger Str. 44

9241 Wernberg

Phone: 04274  7015

More information and pictures about the veil is available in German here.

Visits - arrangements by phone: 0676 8772 8584, Herr Pfarrer Mag. Janusz Kroczek.

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