The Ceiling Frescoes

Looking from the cupola to the main altar, the cupola, spaning the lower end of the sanctuary, first captures our attention. A masterpiece of painted artistry with its fanciful allegory of the four continents, is quintessential 18th century imagery at its best. Executed by Vaclav Reiner between 1728–1730 these ceiling frescoes depicting scenes from the Legend of Saint Thomas the Apostle fill four panels spanning the barrel-vaulted sanctuary:

  1. Within the cupola itself is the majestic Appearance of the Risen Jesus to Thomas and the Apostles, as related in the gospel of John 20:24-29.
  2. The second fresco portrays the Mission of Thomas in India. This apostle is regarded as the first Christian missionary to the sub-continent.
  3. The third fresco or the Apostles at the empty tomb of Mary, regarded by many as Reiner’s best, is a study in fluid body language so beloved by the baroque artists. The legend relates that Thomas – late as usual – arrived after the burial of Christ’s mother, Mary. Requesting that the tomb be opened for one last glance, the apostles discover to their dismay an empty sepulchre filled with flowers as the Virgin herself hovers above the scene in glory.
  4. In the last or fourth panel, is portrayed the Martyrdom of Thomas. According to the legendary account of his death, Thomas had incurred the wrath of a local ruler whose funds he had used to aid the poor of that land.

In the second set of five panels Vaclav Reiner depicted scenes from the life of Augustine of Hippo (+430), the secondary patron of the Church and founder of Augustinian community life. Starting from the back (over the organ gallery), the sequence runs:

  1. Augustine is baptised by Saint Ambrose. Augustine was baptised in Milan on April 24, 386. The coat of arms is that of the Archducal House of Austria.
  2. Augustine defends the truths of faith. Throughout his long career as priest and bishop, Augustine was the recognized champion of the Catholic faith in face of its adversaries here identified as Donatus, Pelagius and Manes. The coat of arms is that of the Kingdom of Bohemia.
  3. Augustine washes the feet of Christ in the person of a pauper. According to a legend Jesus in the guise of a poor traveller appeared to Augustine who while washing his guest’s feet (as was customary for the host in ancient times) recognized the Son of God in this humble service. Underneath the fresco we can translate the Latin inscription as: O Great Father Augustine, today you merited to see the Son of God in the flesh, to you I commend my Church. The coat of arms is that of the Kingdom of Hungary.
  4. Augustine, the Father of Monastic life, is depicted with his disciples. Under the mantle of the Saint are depicted a large number of friars, monks, canons and knights who follow the Rule of Augustine. Today some 140 religious orders and congregations of men and women form this spiritual family which has served the Catholic community for over 1,600 years on all the continents of the earth. The fourth and final coat of arms is that of the Holy Roman Empire ruled in 1729 – the date of the fresco’s composition – by the pious Emperor Charles VI, who often prayed in Saint Thomas Church.
  5. The fifth and final panel in the very center of the church depicts the Glorification or the Apotheosis of Saint Augustine. Having proven himself “the wise and prudent servant of the Lord” Augustine is now admitted into heavenly glory, the destiny of all who believe.