The history of the Franciscan Church - similar to the history of Salzburg Cathedral - can be traced back to Salzburg´s early Christian period. Both churches are distinguished by their contrasting architectural styles: the Cathedral, a dominating Baroque bishops´ church and the Franciscan Church, a slender, Gothic church for the middle class. The Cathedral, a stately ecclesiastical structure, the Franciscan Church a place of silent communion.
The church´s origins are obscure, it is maintained that it may be older than the Cathedral. Its construction is attributed to St. Virgil. As most of the other churches in Salzburg it was repeatedly ravaged by fire and fell victim to the chastisement of Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa in 1167. The aspiring Salzburg burghers left their mark on the city with their reconstruction of the church at the turn of the 12th century and again at the beginning of the 15th century. The self-confident middle class could afford to have the church renovated by the most famous architect in the Salzburg region, Hans von Burghausen. At that time Hans von Burghausen had gained recognition through his churches in Landshut and Neuötting. His masterpiece is the magnificent hall choir which effectively reflects the fusion of light and darkness, one of the Fransican Church´s special features. The original high altar was built by Michael Pacher from 1495-1498 but has, unfortunately, not been preserved. Fortunately, the statue of the Madonna with Child, one of Michael Pacher´s masterpieces, was integrated in the high altar designed by Fischer von Erlach 1709/1710 and thus preserved for posterity. The tower holds one of the oldest preserved bells made by the master bell-founder, Jörg Gloppischer, in 1468.
Throughout the years each of the ruling archbishops had modifications made to the Franciscan Church. Wolf Dietrich, for example, had the church linked with the Residenz. The interior of the church has 4 chapels, all dating from the 17th century. Wolf Dietrich´s successor, Markus Sittikus, dedicated the chapel in the north bay to his uncle, Karl Borromäus. Adjoining the chapel is the chapel installed by Wolf Dietrich with a portrayal of the Birth of Christ. Across from this chapel are Archbishop Max Gandolf´s St. Anne´s Chapel with paintings by Christoph Lederwasch and the chapel installed by Johann Ernst Thun with a St. Francis cycle by Johann Michael Rottmayr.
The archbishops and burghers appear to have rivaled to perpetuate themselves in the Franciscan Church. It encompasses the architectural styles from nearly all of the periods from the Romantic Age to the present.