Plague Column or “Pestsäule” in the Graben

It’s hard to find anything that is at the same time so opulent and so incredibly ugly as this Plague Column, which rises out of the middle of a long-time elegant shopping street, the Graben (literally, the “Ditch.”) Such monuments became common and increasingly lavish as citizens erected them both as prayers for relief from the plague, and as testaments to their gratitude for surviving. Another taller but less monstrous example stands next to the Karlskirche at Karlsplatz. The Graben plague column was a memorial to victims of the 1679 plague, and also the Turkish invasion of 1683, and was completed in 1693 by decree of Emperor Leopold I in gratitude to God for saving those who survived. Several sculptors worked on the project before its completion, but it is uniformly awful. The various bulging clouds and figures of writhing humans and angels look like the column itself is bursting with stone blisters. Nor is sexism missing from the monument – the plague is personified as a hag, who is being throttled by a muscular angel. For more detailed photos see


About pcooperwhite

Christiane Brooks Johnson Professor of Psychology and Religion, Union Theological Seminary, New York NY
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