You are here: Home » Field Visits » Baroque Master Builders » St. Leonard Church

St. Leonard Church

The master builders from the Au guild were involved in the design of the church. There wasn't enough money to build a pompous church, but that wouldn't have fit into the area, anyway.

In the Bregenzerwald travel guide, Helmut Swozelik wrote about St. Leonard‘s parish church in Au:

The master builders from the Au guild were involved in the design of the church.  There wasn‘t enough money to build a pompous church, but that wouldn‘t have fit into the area, anyway.  The centre of the church is Gothic.  It was expanded in 1788 in the Baroque style.  It was restored in 1981 - 1983.  Well worth looking at is the hand carved lectern from the 18th century and the stone masonry at the side alter on the left, made in 1652.  The church doors are adorned with the Vorarlberg coat of arms.  The organ is worth listening to, because it is said to have an especially beautiful sound.

Helmut Swozilek, Catholic parish church, St. Leonard‘s.
Au/Bregenzerwald.  Schnell, Art guide, nr. 1828, Munich, Zurich, 1990.

Up until the late 13th century, the area around Au, Schoppernau and Mellau was forest, pastures and alps.  Later, this area was settled as well.  The beginning of the development of the church in the Bregenzerwald was closely connected to the convent in the Mehrerau in Bregenz.  They owned the oldest parish and mother church in the inner forest region.

In 1284, Ellenbogen (today Reuthe) broke away from Andelsbuch and became the mother church of Au (Jagdhausen).  The way the church looks today is mostly because of the renovations done in the years 1776 to 1789.  At that time, the gothic church was extended one last time and the style was changed to Baroque to suit the times.  The only thing left that reminds us of its original style is the floor plan and the pointed arch window in the chancel that is now inside the church.

St. Leonard‘s makes a striking appearance on a terrace at a winding curve of the Bregenz river. The parish church is a long, stretched out construction with a gabled roof and a lower 3/8 choral.  The north tower has a pointed gabled pinnacle.  On the east side of the tower a registry with a pent roof was added.  The inside is a light hall with flat arched windows and a pointed canopy arch.  The walls and ceiling are full of frescoes and oil paintings.  An especially distinguishing example is the white-gold rococo piece by Johann Jakob Ruef (1778) who was from Au.

The parish church in Au has many distinguishing features from different eras which makes it all the more remarkable that so much of its Baroque character has been preserved. Some of the baroque frescoes are the Vierpass painting on the ceiling of the presbytery with Joachim and Anna going to the temple, that was painted by Joseph Jakob Spieler from Lindenberg around 1780, as well as the portrait of St. Katharine from Sienna and St. Scholastika with the sceptre, rule book and dove on the wall of the chancel.

The 18th century stations of the cross was also painted in1736.  It is important to pay attention to the 5th station where Simon helps Jesus carry the cross.  Simon is dressed in the traditional clothing of the Alps with knee breeches, a wide belt and a short, white jacket with red sleeves - just like what is worn in the Bregenzerwald. The three medallions on the upper parapet are by Johann Kaerle from Lechtal and show St. Cecilia with an organ, flanked by angels playing harps.  This was made in 1886. 

Of all the paintings, the baroque ceiling paintings in the centre line of the vessel by Waldemar Kolmsperger Jr. (1923) are the most striking.  The ruling picture in the centre show the „Vorarbergia sancta“: Above the landscape of Au, the heavens are open, showing Christ ruling over the region and the church.

In the middle are the patron saints of the parish church in Au with the holy farmer St. Leonard with a horse and St. Katharine with a wheel.  On the left, in the clouds we see the saints Merbod, Diedo and Ilga in their traditional Bregenzerwald clothing.  

Angels with the Bregenzerwald fir tree, coat of arms and the Vorarlberg coat of arms are shown as the connection between heaven and earth.  The east ceiling painting in the church shows the birth of Christ and the west ceiling, depicts him being laid in the tomb.  In both cases it seems familiar to us because of the landscape of fir trees and cliffs. Likewise, in the parish church in Damüls, there is a painting of a shepherd with an Alp horn.   The rest of the ceiling medallions are also by Kolmsperger.  On the women‘s side, from east to west is a guardian angel, St. Agnes with a lamb and Elisabeth von Thüringen, and on the men‘s side, Hermann Joseph, St. Aloisius and St. Isidor.

The large canvas paintings in the main part of the church were painted between 1923 and 1928 by Martin von Feuerstein and his apprentice, Karl Wurm.  At the front, beginning on the right and moving clockwise we see The Last Supper painted by Feuerstein, the Holy Family painted by Wurm, the marriage of Mary and Joseph by Feuerstein, Mary as a child with Joachim and Anna by Feuerstein, Jesus in the temple by Feuerstein, and Jesus with the children by Wurm.  All of these scenes show the realism in religious art of the 19th century.

Feuerstein was born in Alsace to a carver from Au.  He was a professor of religious paintings at the academy of art in Munich.  Feuerstein always felt a great attachment to the home of his father and therefore gave the church in Au the square oil paintings hanging to the left and right of the high alter.  These depict Mary being let into heaven and Mary‘s crowning. The three alters in the parish church in Au are from three different centuries. The most interesting one is the side alter.  It is made completely out of stone and is the oldest alter in the church.  

„The holiest trinity and the most glorious virgin, Mary, mother of God and the whole army in heaven, in praise and honour, has a lowly creature from Au erected this alter in the year of our Lord, 1652.“

The black stone was hewn under the supervision of Hans Natter, born in Au and sculptor in Ueberlingen.  Around the same time as the alter was erected, the picture of the beheading of St. Katharine was donated to the church by the mayor, Johann Waldner l.  Johann Waldner was a very rich man and his name comes up in the churches in Schnepfegg and Bizau as the donator of paintings.  The large alter sheet shows the Rosary queen with saints Dominic and Katharine and is the work of the painter and restorer, Josef Reich from Bizau painted in 1925.

The retable at the side alter is from the 18th century.  All that is left of the figurine ornaments are the reliefs to the side of the predella.  The figurines are 19th century made in the Tyrol.  We can see St. Martin flanked by St. Wolfgang and St. Augustine.  Instead of the original on the alter piece, there is the relief group, The Death of Joseph by Dominikus Trenkwalder, set in 1885.

The high alter is also from the 19th century.  It was made in the style of neo-renaissance.  In the centre, the crucifixion and on the side in the arched openings, the patron saints of the church, St. Leonard and St. Katherine.   The figure of the heavenly

father can be seen in the alcove, and in the predella, we see the hearts of Mary and Jesus.  These are historical works of the Bertle brothers from Schruns.

The altar also hides the remains of the martyr Pius, who was originally buried in the Cyriaca catacombs in Rome.  In order for Au to have the remains of a saint, Ferdinand Beer, the master builder, went to the prelate in St. Gallen who present them with the remains.  They were laid to rest in Au in 1782.

The public alter and ambo (1982/84) made from dark grey and white stone, are from the sculptor, Professor Herbert Albrecht who was born in Au and now lives in Wolfurt.  The public alter shows the four evangelist symbols and the ambo depicts a man‘s head with a knife in its mouth which is understood as showing the sharpness of words.

The pulpit is of excellent quality, and built in the style of traditional renaissance.  It harmonizes beautifully with the neighbouring alter.  The wood carver, Michael Lechleitner from the Tyrol started it and when he died in 1669, it was finished by his son, Melchior.  It was in its natural state for around 100 years, after which it was mounted.

The pulpit on the left alter, fits together nicely with the hexagonal, black marble baptism stone.  It was probably made around the middle of the 17th century and is a good example of the strength of the stone masons in those days.

Of the other things in the church, the carpentry work and carvings by Gebhard Moosbrugger from Schoppernau are what catch the eye.  Besides the relief figures on the wings on the main portal that depict the patron saints of the church, there are also the neo-renaissance style choir seats that he made in 1910.

The first organ was built by the famous Joseph Begoentzle from Ammerschwir in Alsace between 1787 and 1799.  Unfortunately it was rebuilt many times.  The case, built in 1893 is similar to a seven axis historical work with round arch openings, pilasters and other decorations.  It has 17 registers, 2 manuals and pedals.

Taste 6