Frescoes for the baptism chapel of Castle Bernau Fischlham

Castle Bernau small castle view in Upper Austria dates back to the 12th century. It has changed hands quite a few times during its long history, endured a great fire in 1609 and metamorphosed significantly, each new owner apparently adding what he liked, walling off rooms and creating new ones. The castle did not always have a moat. That was probably added in the 16th century, maybe after the fire? Four towers were constructed at the corners and in the SW tower, a chapel was installed. When it was consecrated and when it was dissolved, cannot be pinpointed exactly, but a two-story chapel with a vaulted ceiling is mentioned in the handwritten annals around 1600.

In the 19th century, a solid floor/ceiling was constructed, dividing the tall space into a storage room on the ground floor and a sitting room above. The walls were plastered with many thick layers and the little church forgotten. Except for one single telltale sign, nothing even hinted at the fact that there was once a chapel in the building.

Anton Krajnc, who had been spending his summers at the castle since 1985, saw the sign: a small angel’s head relief above the only oval window out of sixty-five in the entire building. He began to investigate and read a lot of old documents, where he found positive proof: the chapel’s existence was no longer a rumour. At that time the new owners, who had acquired the castle with land they bought, began to renovate it. Moved by their resident artist’s enthusiasm, they asked him to revitalize the chapel.

Krajnc decided to paint real frescoes, a technique, which he had learned, while studying at Accademia Raffaello in URBINO, Italy, gaining hands-on experience helping with the painting and restoration of frescoes in several churches of the region. Making real frescoes is much more demanding than the mere painting of murals on dry walls, and yielding much longer lasting and much more luminous images.

The term “fresco”fresco animals should only be used to describe the traditional buon fresco technique: painting upon a wet, freshly prepared section of lime-plaster wall with pigments ground in water only, then mixed with lime-water for painting. When the plaster dries, it sets with a rocklike cohesion and the pigments dry with it as an integral part of the surface. Sounds complicated? Well, it is. And strenuous.
Think of months spent balancing on scaffolding, painting above your head,chapel ceiling stretching or crouching in various uncomfortable and not undangerous positions‚Ķ working continuously until the plaster sets and having to stop when it does! – Hopefully looking at a perfect “giornata”. What you don’t like, cannot be corrected. Except by taking hammer and chisel and removing the whole plaster section, and starting over. But it can also be quite exhilarating. Because this ancient technique allows the artist to create images, which he can guarantee for about 500 years. Give or take a few hundred.

Krajnc uses pure color pigments that come in so many shades that the shop in Munich, where they can be bought, looks like a candy-store for artists. Mixed with lime-water, they coat each and every grain of sand in the plaster the paint is applied to, thus creating the extra brilliance associated with frescoes and ensuring their lasting beauty. As the surface dries, a waterproof layer forms, protecting the painting and sealing it in.

It took three summers, from 1993-1996 to remove the added ceiling, prepare the walls, sculpt light-fixtures and paint the original vaulted ceiling and five walls, all over 27feet high, curved and meeting at odd angles (remember, the towers were added to the building much later.)

The images on the walls attest to Krajnc’ study of comparative religions and mythologies. He had free hand in making this a unique and special space, depicting scenes of peace and beauty, like the South wall showing Adam Naming the AnimalsAdam’s hand (there are 52 of them!) or controversy, like the Expulsion from Paradiselightning and the Resurrection Wall, with painted quotes in homage to Piero della Francesca,sleeping guard one of Krajnc’ favorite Old Masters.

The frescoes were completed in 1996. The chapel itself was dedicated in August 1997, by Abbot Oddo of Kremsm√ľnster (a famous nearby abbey and school with its own planetarium and collection of rare books and art) and Fischlham’s own priest, Pater Gregor. It will be mainly used for small weddings and baptisms. the first ones already took place on August 8th! As it is situated in Austria, it is basically Catholic, but will be open to all faiths. If you’d like to visit, or want to plan a special ceremony there, you will need to contact the owners, since it is in a private castle. For information on how to reach them or how to get there from Vienna (2 hours by car) or Salzburg (1 hour by car), just ask.key

Some of the finishing touches, designed and in part also executed by Krajnc:

the pipe-organ was hand-built near Munich, Germany, by Hubertus Graf Kerssenbrock. Krajnc added his own lime wood carvings to the wooden housing and made the “wings” (doors that can be closed);
the wrought iron door was forged by husband-and-wife-team Anna and Wolfgang Auer in Braunau am Inn, Austria, whom Krajnc joined for several weeks in the spring of 1997, to learn the craft and add his own personal touches to the iron work: birds, leaves and hearts and a special lock and key to the door;
the floor was laid with slabs of slate salvaged from another church, following Krajnc’ design of a labyrinth, leading to the octagonal marble baptismal font (an antique piece) and from there to the altar; the altar stone, of Adneter marble (found near Salzburg), was carved by Anton with ecumenical images and securely fastened to the wall of the chapel, creating a free-form altar table, upon which a candle and a vase of white flowers will always stand next to a photograph of Doris Handlbauer, to whose memory the chapel is dedicated.