The Servant Madonna by the south tower is one of the oldest and most beautiful sculptures in St. Stephen’s cathedral. Mary, in wide, flowing robes, carries the boy Jesus, watching with a gentle smile as he plays with her brooch. Created between 1280 and 1320, the statue was originally gaily painted and adorned with gold. Not only the colours have disappeared over the centuries; in the 19th century several alterations are made, in particular to the face of the Madonna. But she remains an excellent piece of High Gothic statuary, elegant and full of life.
How does the Servant Madonna get her name? A 17th century myth claims that the sculpture originally belongs to the wealthy Viennese countess Gertrude of Ramshorns, who accuses her maid one day of stealing a pearl necklace. The maid, in her desperation, prays to the Madonna in the house chapel for help and, after a thorough search, the necklace is indeed found in a stable boy’s possession. The servant is off the hook and the countess donates the statue to the cathedral to make amends. It’s more likely however, that the Servant Madonna has always belonged to the cathedral even if we’re not sure where it originally stood. A statue of this size and value is more likely to be found at court or in a church than in a private household.