Chapel of St Nicholas
The eastward-oriented chapel of St Nicholas, first consecrated in 1330, has a square plan and is spanned by a net vault, with a 5/8 polygonal apse that extends over the perimeter wall of the upper castle. The chapel is connected to a single-storey vestibule by two large arches, which rest on a round central sandstone column and two lateral half-columns. The oratory lies above the vestibule, separated from the chapel space by two pointed-arched windows.
The exterior walls of the nave and the foundations of the choir date from the medieval construction of the castle. The chapel originally consisted of a transverse rectangular nave with a projecting apse that was expanded to form the current, late-Gothic choir. The apse was replaced by the 5/8 choir during the fifteenth century, when both it and the nave received their lierne vaulting. The chapel vestibule was built during the same period.
In the sixteenth century, Archduke Ferdinand II had the chapel rebuilt again, under the direction of the master builder Giovanni Lucchese: the vestibule was given two new entry doors, one from the castle courtyard and another through the sacristy, connected to the west, and the vestibule was joined with the chapel. The oratory above the vestibule also dates from this phase of construction.
Renewed structural changes did not take place until the nineteenth century, when Ambras Castle was adapted as a residence by Archduke Karl Ludwig (1832–1896), who became governor of Tyrol in 1855. The architect Anton Geppert fortified the structure between 1863 and 1867, installing two tie beams along the north and south walls and closing cracks in the walls with brick fragments and parts of the sandstone ribs removed from within the nave. The two pointed-arched windows were opened in the west wall to the oratory. The vaulting of the nave was renewed, and severely damaged wall paintings from the sixteenth century were spalled away.
Following replastering, the Innsbruck painter August Wörndle received the commission to repaint the chapel. He aligned himself stylistically with the Nazarenes, and iconographically with the original sixteenth-century decoration, which had been ‘drawn in contour’ by the Innsbruck bookbinder Franz Vischer in 1834. The birth of Christ, Christ teaching, and the Crucifixion are depicted below the nave windows on the north wall; the south wall illustrates the Resurrection, the Ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit; painted gabled niches on the choir arch show St Joseph and the Immaculate Conception. The windows were created by the Neuhauser brothers of the Innsbruck glass-painting school following designs by August Wörndle. The pews, and the neo-Gothic altar with the statue of St Nicholas in a baldachin niche by Michael Stolz, are likewise from the nineteenth century. The blind arcade on the front of the predella houses figures of saints.