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By the beginning of the 12th century there were four churches in Vienna, including one parish church. With growing population and importance of Vienna it became clear that more and bigger churches are needed.
In 1137 Leopold IV, the Margrave of Austria, signed a treaty with the Bishop of Passau, known as the Treaty of Mautern. The main point was that the Diocese of Passau (the bishop) was given the Church of St. Peter in Vienna and Leopold got huge pieces of land outside Viennese city walls with one exception: a small territory where a new parish church was planned to be built. This territory is the site of today’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Though outside the contemporary city walls, the new church was actually built on an ancient cemetery. However, this fact was not known until 2000, when ancient graves were discovered 2.5 metres (8 ft) below the surface. 430 skeletons were found and moved to the catacombs under the Cathedral. The new revelation suggests that the place where the current Cathedral stands has probably been the oldest church site in Vienna (besides that the Ruprechtskirche has been considered the oldest).
The first church on the site was built in Romanesque style in 1137. In 1147 it was dedicated to St. Stephen, the patron of the bishop’s cathedral in Passau. The church was not entirely completed at the time and was extended and rebuilt many times in the following centuries.
Between 1230 and 1245 a significant extension of the church took place. While many of these additions were destroyed by fire in 1258, some of them sustained till today, namely both Heathen Towers and a part of the present western wall.
A great fire destroyed much of the basilica in 1258. A new larger Romanesque church was constructed on the ruins, reusing the two Heathen towers which generally survived the fire. The new church was consecrated on 23 April 1263. On this day every year the anniversary is celebrated with a special 3 minute ringing of Pummerin, the largest bell in the St. Stephan’s Cathedral today.
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