St. Jakob in Villach and the Nativity Scene Exhibition

Never does the church of St. Jakob look more festive than in the pre-Christmas period, when its tall tower is carpeted by fairy lights and the stalls of the Christmas market nestle around the building. The history of Villach's main parish church has always been intertwined with the history of the town. Its rich stock of late medieval artworks and memorials is of great artistic importance. St. Jakob's Nativity scene, which has an oriental setting, can be adored until Candlemas (2nd of February). It is put up in front of the baptistery. 

It is rare that a church puts its up crib before Christmas Eve. In St. Jakob this is a tradition. Here, the crib is put up from the first Sunday in Advent, to the left of the main altar, in front of the baptistery (Leiniger chapel). The Holy Family is still missing, of course; it will be added on the 24th of December. The nativity is given an oriental setting, with houses with flat roofs and domes and the birth grotto of Bethlehem, created in 1998 by the two Villach crib builders, Erich Körbler und Lambert Windhagauer. Erich Körbler is also head of the Krippenfreunde Villach, who exhibit Nativity scenes in the Jakobushaus, Kirchenplatz 9 every other year. 

The origins of St. Jakob at Villach presumably date back to the 9th/10th centuries AD. There is archeological proof of an earlier Romanesque church, which is first confirmed in writing in 1136. This house of worship was destroyed by the 1348 earthquake and rebuilt in several steps: the choir in 1360-1370, the nave in 1450-1460, and the vaulted ceiling of the nave in 1524.

The period during which the church of St. Jakob flourished most was during the age of the Reformation, between 1526 and 1594, when the Lutheran doctrine was preached and the church was administered by the citizens. Many a potent, influential family became Protestant patrons, like the Dietrichstein, Khevenhüller, Künsberg, Leiniger and Weißbriach families. They all contributed to the rich interior of St. Jakob by donating chapels, memorials, an organ loft and a pulpit, which can frankly be considered a culmination of 16th century Austrian stonemasonry. With the beginning of the Counterreformation, however, many of these families were forced to migrate - a social and economic eradication from which the town of Villach did not recover for a long time.

Every visitor to St. Jakob will be impressed by the height and the width of the generous, yet harmonious dimensions of the interior. The hall church with its three naves is structured by elegant, slim pairs of columns. The Gothic apse with its Baroque stucco in the vaulted ceiling is adorned with a graceful late Baroque main altar, dating from 1784/1785. In its center, a large, late Gothic crucifix (1502) hangs above a figure of the Suffering Madonna (17th century). Other figures on the altar depict the Princes of he Apostles, Saint Peter and Paul and the patron saints of St. Jakob: St. Laurentius, St. James and the Three Wise Men. There were, and still are, markets in town to celebrate the Patrons days of these patrons: the Dreikönigsmarkt (6th of January), the Laurentiusmarkt (10th of August) and, especially well known, the Jakobimarkt (25th of July), from which the Villacher Kirchtag derives.

Parish church St. Jakob in Villach
Kirchenplatz 8, 9500 Villach.

Nativity scene exhibition every other year at the Jakobushaus
Kirchenplatz 9, 9500 Villach
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 2pm to 7pm, Sunday 10am to 7
Entrance: volontary donations.

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