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In the end of World War II, when German forces were retreating from Vienna, St. Stephen’s Cathedral narrowly escaped total destruction. Viennese German commandant Sepp Dietrich ordered the soldiers to “fire a hundred shells (at the Cathedral) and leave it in just debris and ashes.” Luckily, his subordinate Captain Gerhard Klinkicht disregarded the order and spared Stephansdom from the firing.
But another distaster came soon. On 12 April 1945, when Russian soldiers had already entered Vienna, a fire started by civilian plunderers was carried from the nearby houses onto the Cathedral. The fire damaged the wooden framework of the roof, eventually causing it to collapse. Fortunately, some of the most precious artifacts inside the Cathedral (like the Stone Pulpit and the tomb of Frederick III), suffered only minor damage when the roof fell onto the ground. On the other hand, some other treasures were totally lost, like the Rollinger choir stalls made in 1487.
Efforts for restoration of the damaged Stephansdom started immediately. The Cathedral reopened partially on 12 December 1948, in 1950 the new roof was completed and all the rebuilding works were finished on 23 April 1952. The intense events around the St. Stephen’s Cathedral following the end of World War II contributed significantly to its today’s position as a symbol of Vienna and its people.
In these days St. Stephan’s Cathedral operates as a church with regular services and is an important place in the religious and cultural life of Vienna. Besides that, it is the top tourist attraction of Vienna. To its visitors it offers guided tours and access to the south and the north tower and also to the catacombs.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the best known landmarks not just of Vienna, but of all Austria. Besides its appearance on the Austrian 10 cent euro coins, Stephansdom has been featured in many films including Burnout 3 or The Third Man.
In 1823 St. Stephen’s Church was built in Philadelphia in the United States on the site where Benjamin Franklin flew his famous kite. Its architect William Strickland designed the building with a facade similar to the Viennese Cathedral.
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