Universität WienAn Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

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In accordance with the idea of the three universal forces of imperium, sacerdotium, studium, symbols of academic supremacy developed that undoubtedly represent an imitation of such papal or imperial insignia as, for example, the sceptre. As a particular symbol of dignity the Deed of Foundation makes mention of a ring to be given to the Rector when he assumes office together with the other tokens of his status. Among these were the University Seal and the Matriculation Book. The Rector's Chain was only added in the 19th Century.

In accordance with the corporate structure of the University the Faculties and Academic Nations also possessed their own insignia and seals. Unlike the totality of the University which had no coat of arms in the Middle Ages, the Academic Nations attached great value to their own heraldic symbols.

Lit.: Franz Gall, Die Insignien der Universität Wien (= Studien zur Geschichte der Universität Wien im Überblick 4, Graz-Köln 1965);


Sceptre of the Rector of the University of Vienna, 1558

By analogy with the staffs of rulers and office-holders, university rectors carried sceptres as insignia of their high office and dignity. This symbol of the majesty of the supreme university office-holder and representative of the whole university - who formerly also had legal authority - gradually came to symbolise the common history and identity of all members of the university. It is seen as a representation of the university's independence and therefore also as a reminder of the freedom and unity of research and teaching. The sceptre of the Vienna University and Rector dates from 1558. The silver partially gilded hexagonal shaft is divided by four pommels and topped with an Imperial crown, decorated with two amethysts, that rests on a two-tiered wreath. The pommels and the wreath may have been taken from an older late-Gothic staff. The sceptre is 137.4 cm in length and bears on the shaft the inscription: SCEPTRVM RECTORATVS VNIVERSITATIS VIENNENSIS 1558.


The Rector's Chain of Office, 1805

In the Middle Ages and in early Modern Times chains of office for academic dignitaries were unknown in the University of Vienna. Their origin may lie in chains of honour and favour bestowed by princes which almost always bore a portrait of the monarch, and which were often given to scholars. The abolition of academic dress in 1784 brought about the desire for some "distinctive token", with the result that the University itself made a request for the award of "gold medals". In 1792 Emperor Leopold II awarded to the University five gold medals bearing his portrait and furnished with violet and red ribbons. The wearers of these soon came to equate them with civil servants of "the lower ranks". In response to a later request from the University in the time of Rector Franz Anton von Zeiller, Emperor Franz II, on 29th December 1804, approved 5 new decorations for the Rector and Deans. In place of the disputed Rector's sceptre the Imperial Crown should be made visible, with the inscription on the face: FRANCISCUS ROM. ET AUST. IMP. On the reverse side the following text was required: MVNIFICENTIA AVGVSTI RECTORI VNIVERSITATIS VINDOBONENSIS, FACVLTATI THEOLOGORVM, FACVLTATI JVRECONSVLTORVM, FACVLTATI MEDICORVM, FACVLTATI PHILOSOPHORVM; and below this the date: MDCCCIV. The round gold medal with the portrait of Emperor Franz II was placed at the centre of two interlocking Maltese Crosses, above which is the Austrian Imperial Crown. The Rector's chain had 49 links compared to the 62 smaller links in the Deans' chains.


Sceptre of the Catholic Theological Faculty, 1601

This sceptre, created in 1601 by a goldsmith from Augsburg for 150 Guilders, had many partly wooden predecessors in the Middle Ages which have been lost, although possibly certain decorative elements have survived. It is considered to be the "finest artistic achievement among the surviving sceptres of the University of Vienna". The cylindrical silver staff is 126 cm in length. Its 5 pommels are gilded, and it is covered with an engraved rhomboid pattern that incorporates lilies and blossoms. Its head forms a cup-shaped socket on which the roller-shaped crowning section reposes. In each of four scalloped niches there is the symbol of an evangelist (angel, bull, eagle and lion) with an open book. On top of the upper covering plate is a console with a statuette of St. John the Evangelist - the patron of the Faculty - bearing a chalice.


Sceptre of the Protestant Theological Faculty, 1859

The Protestant Theological Faculty has existed since 1821 as a teaching establishment and since 1850 as an independent faculty. The silver, partly gilded cylindrical staff, which is 156 cm long, was made in 1959 and consists of 3 separate parts that can be screwed together with simple shaft rings. At the top is an elliptical pommel on which there are two bosses with cross, anchor, book and chalice. Between them are two medallions placed one above the other with figures of the four evangelists. Above the pommel is the Austrian Imperial Crown on a cushion decorated at the four corners with tassels.

Sceptre of the Faculty of Law, 1615

The sceptre of the Vienna Lawyers was made in 1615 and like that of the Medical Faculty is decorated with elements from an older, late mediaeval staff. The hexagonal partly gilded silver staff (150 cm long) is adorned with an engraved rhomboid pattern and subdivided by four pommels. The head consists of two garlands of leaves and above is a hexagonal platform with a statuette of Justitia, bearing a sword and a balance. On the shaft is the inscription: SCEPTRVM FACVLTATIS JVRIDICAE IN ARCHIGYMNASIO VIENNENSI DE NOVO CONFECTVM ANNO SALVTIS MDCXV together with a number of renovation stamps.

Sceptre of the Faculty of Medicine, 1615

The hexagonal silver staff, engraved with a rhomboid pattern, has gilded pommels and is reminiscent of the Rector's sceptre of 1558. It was donated in 1615 by the Physician and Rector Sigismund Geisler. In its production a number of components from more ancient predecessors were used. The head consists of a double wreath below a console on which stands a figure of St. Luke, the patron saint of physicians. In his right hand he carries an open book, while his left hand rests on the head of a bull lying beside him. The sceptre is 139.8 cm long and bears a number of engraved inscriptions, including reference to Sts. Cosmas and Damian and to the donor of the sceptre: SIGISMVND GEISLER D. SCEPTRVM HOC IMPENSIS PROPRIIS FIERI FECIT AC FACVLTATI MEDICAE VN[IVERSITA]TIS VIENN. IN SUI MEMORIAM DONAVIT ANNO SALVTIS MDCXV.

Sceptre of the Philosophical Faculty, 1666

In 1666 the Rector Dr. Balthasar Nolaren von Nolenstein provided this new sceptre, since the gothic staff from 1401 that had been used hitherto had become damaged. The smooth hexagonal partly gilded silver staff (143.5 cm in length) is reminiscent of the Rector's staff of 1558 and is subdivided by 5 pommels. The head consists of two wreaths on which is fixed a hexagonal platform. The gilded figure which stands here represents the patron of the Faculty, St. Katharine with the Wheel. She is thought to be the oldest part of any of the Vienna sceptres, since she was already used as the head of the 1401 gothic sceptre that has not survived. She belongs to the so-called 'soft style'. A comparison may be made with a stone statue of Our Lady, from the same period, which may be found in the south tower of the Abbey Church in Klosterneuburg. The magnificent wreaths and the pommels are now also considered to date back to the 1401 sceptre.


The University Banner, 1892

The use of banners in the University of Vienna is attested as far back as 1382. Originally they bore the image of St. Gregory, the patron saint of teachers, and St. Nicholas, the patron of pupils, but banners with the image of Our Lady were subsequently used in the University. The florid university banner in use today first appeared at a ceremony held in honour of the surgeon Theodor Billroth on 11th October 1892. It bears the portrait of Rudolf IV surrounded by scrolls with the dates 1365 (University foundation), 1384 (Great Reform of Albrecht III), 1884 (opening of the main building on the Ring) and 1892 (donation of the banner). Beside this portrait are symbols of Theology (palm, cross, eye of God) and Philosophy (column and scroll). On the reverse is a gothic trefoil with the arms of the University (hand holding a book), and next to this are symbols of Law (fasces) and medicine (leech). The upper section has the inscription UNIVERSITAS beside the imperial coat of arms and, on the reverse, VINDOBONENSIS, with the arms of the City of Vienna. The banner is still used today at academic ceremonies.