College students at the University of Vienna are using a 19th-century church as a classroom

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesDue to COVID-19 restrictions, the University of Vienna has moved classes to the nearby Votive Church.
  • The University of Vienna in Austria searched for spaces where its 90,000 students could learn while social distancing.
  • The Votive Church in Vienna is now temporarily being used by students to study and take online classes.
  • People can still access the space to pray and attend church services.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

At the University of Vienna, some students don’t head to the library. Instead, they grab their laptop to study in the 19th-century Votivkirche, or Votive Church, in Vienna, Austria.

There, students study notes as sunlight streams through stained-glass windows. They sit in pews and tune into online lectures. Classmates discuss topics against a neo-Gothic-style backdrop.

With precautions in place, many Austrian universities have decided to welcome students back to campus. But the University of Austria needed to find more space for its nearly 90,000 students to study — so it rented out a church.

From praying to psychology homework, the Votive Church in Vienna now welcomes both churchgoers and students to its spacious building.

Take a look inside.

The coronavirus has changed the way traditional classrooms look. At the University of Vienna, some students learn inside a 19th-century church.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesA student reads notes using the light shining through stained-glass windows in the Votive Church.

At the time of writing, Austria has just over 56,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 dashboard.

As schools across Europe welcome back students, the classroom looks slightly different. Some schools have moved classes outside, while others have shifted to a virtual platform.

The coronavirus has created additional challenges for the University of Austria, though, as it’s home to nearly 90,000 students.

In order to welcome so many students back to campus, the school, which is located in the heart of Vienna, Austria, is relying on new buildings to serve as study spots for students this quarter – including the Votive Church.

The university is offering both online and in-person classes.

Lisi Niesner/RuetersStudents can access Wi-Fi and complete online assignments and lectures from inside the church.

The University of Vienna started its winter quarter on October 1.

Its reopening plan included both in-person and online classes; however, in-person classes would have limited capacity and freshmen students would be prioritised, according to the university’s website. Inside lecture halls, seats would be marked where students can and cannot sit.

But students taking online classes would also need a place to study. With nearly 90,000 students, the university searched for new places where people could tune into livestreamed classes.

The Votive Church provided a large space near campus.

The building now functions as both a traditional church and a study space for students.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesStudents study from the pews in the church.

University students now have access to the church from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m every weekday.

According to Vienna ORF, an Austrian broadcaster, dozens of students use the space each day.

The church, which dates back to the 1800s, initially didn’t have Wi-Fi, so the university helped connect it to the school’s fibre-optic system.

In addition to adding Wi-Fi, the university also set up hand sanitizer stations and a portable restroom for students.

While students social distance, they can admire the work of Heinrich von Ferstel, the architect who started building the church in 1856.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesStudents study together in chairs placed inside the church.

In the heart of Austria, tourists and locals wander through the city and explore iconic buildings. One common stop is the Votive Church, which is the city’s second-largest church.

The building happens to be steps away from the University of Austria’s campus, which made it an ideal building to rent out this semester.

Heinrich von Ferstel started building the church in 1856, according to its website. It was finally consecrated in 1979 after 23 years of construction.

When students aren’t using the space, church service takes place and tourists trickle in.

Lisi Niesner/RuetersClassmates sit together while they study inside the church.

The church still hosts prayer and services during the morning. On weekends, the building is open to visitors.

The church will be open for students through October.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesChurchgoers are still welcome.

According to Vienna ORF, the university has the church rented out through October.

Depending on its success, the university will continue to rent the church.

Until then, dozens of students plan to take advantage of the unconventional classroom.

JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty ImagesA student on his laptop in the Votive Church in Austria, Vienna.

If you’re a teacher, student, or parent who wants to share their story on what it’s like to
go back to school right now, get in touch at

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