The first plans to build a university church were laid out by Prince Archbishop Paris Lodron when he founded the Benedictine University in Salzburg in 1623. However, the wait for the final building would be a long one. Until then, professors and students simply used a hall, the aula academica, for mass. The room was also used to hold theatre performances and other events.
More than 70 years later, in 1694, Archbishop Johann Ernst von Thun decided to build the university its very own place of worship. The Archbishop chose probably the most important Baroque master at the time to build it, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The university church was to become Fischer von Erlach’s most important work. The most monumental holy building after the cathedral, which features an imposing facade and is one of Austria’s greatest Baroque churches, its unique style had a long-term effect on late Baroque ecclesiastical architecture in Southern Germany. The unveiling celebration began on the 20th of November 1707 and lasted eight days. The artist himself wasn’t able to see the jewel in his own crown, as he had gone blind by the time of the ceremony. The chapels inside the church are devoted to the patron saints of the four faculties: Thomas Aquinus for theology, Ivo for law, Luke for medicine and Catherine for philosophy.
As Napoleon’s troops occupied the city in 1800, it was used as hay storage. In 1810 – when Salzburg was under Bavarian rule – the university was closed and the church lost its original purpose. Under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, it was used as an academic school and garrison church. In 1922, it played host to the debut performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s ‘Großes Welttheater’.
When Salzburg University was re-founded in 1964, the church regained its original purpose.