Austria – Part Four

14 Aug

After a sunny morning spent driving up and down some beautifully green hills, we decided to pay tribute to one of the most visited place by pilgrims in central Europe, Mariazell. At the entrance of the village a sign greets all the visitors with a writing that is a sort of “God bless you” (gruss gott)

Mariazell is located in Styria, well known for winter sport, picturesquely situated in the valley of the Salza, amid the north Styrian Alps. There is no trace of large or enclosed settlements in the area of modern Mariazell dating from pre-Christian times or the first century A.D. The large number of Illyrian and Celtic mountain and river names in the region, such as for example the Erlauf, however suggest small settlements by these tribes. The salt springs in Halltal were not unknown to these groups.By 16 AD the Romans were using the salt roads of Halltal and the Traisental. According to some accounts, there also was a Roman road going to Neuhaus. In 600 the Slavs, under the leadership of the Avars, took control of the land and settled in the mountain region and began farming. The expansion of these peoples also accounts for the existence of some of the town and mountain names today. In 1025, Emperor Conrad II gave his sister-in-law Beatrix, married to Adalbero of Eppenstein, parts of the county in the Mürztale as a gift. With this gift came around 100 Huben (sort of piece of grounds) which belonged to the territory of the future market of Mariazell.

In 1157, Monk Magnus came into the Zellertal with a lime-tree wood statue of the Virgin Mary and founded the first chapel there, around which the town later grew. The town’s name derived from the description “Mary in the cell”, i.e. in the monk’s chapel. In 1344, Mariazell was elevated to the status of market town. In 1420, the Turks came to Mariazell for the first time and burned the church and the town. In 1474, another fire devastated the town. In 1532, the Turks returned to Mariazell and set more houses on fire.

1644: The “baroque-ization” of the church is begun by Abbot Benedikt Pierin, and the commission is given to Master Builder Sciassia. After his death the construction is continued by various other workers before being completed in 1780. In 1679 Emperor Leopold I visited the shrine, and a valet in his entourage brought the plague to Mariazell. Fear and terror took hold as 156 townspeople fell victim to the disease. In 1742 the Empress granted Abbot Eugen Inzaghi the privileges of an Archabbot over Gollrad and Aschbach, as well as over the Mariazell cast iron works. In 1786, Emperor Joseph II dissolves the Monastery of St. Lambrecht, from which Mariazell was serviced, in the course of his cloister abolishments. The pilgrimages are hampered and later completely forbidden. In 1805 the Battle of Mariazell is fought in the area during the War of the Third Coalition as the French invade Austria and in 1809 faced with a French advance church treasures are brought to Temesvár in Hungary for security. A few weeks later, the French arrive at Mariazell. Combat operations, requisition, and crop failures lead in these years to a massive decrease in population. In 1827 Mariazell’s largest fire, which incinerates almost the entire town, and leaves the church with great fire damage, occurs on All Souls’ Night.

Beside the basilica, the village is well known also for gingerbread…..could we miss the best place for this austrian tradition? Surely not…..instead of a proper lunch we opted for some desserts…

Considering the dimensions of hubby’s hands, can you see how big that piece of cake was?

My ice-cream was no less………..

In the upper floor there are some of the most beautiful gingerbread houses that won some prizes over the years….can you spot me?

After lunch it was time to visit the Basilica….

The Mariazell Basilica is also known as Basilica Mariä Geburt (Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary). In the fourteenth century, a gothic church stood at Mariazell with a 90 m high spire and an ogive portal. In 1420 and 1474, the church was destroyed by fire. The church building was later expanded and redesigned in the Baroque style by Domenico Sciassia from 1644 to 1683. To the left and right of the gothic spire a baroque tower was built, the nave was lengthened and widened, and a dome was added on the eastern side. The high altar, consecrated in 1704, was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

The twelve side chapels each contain a baroque altar. The plaster stucco work of the organ gallery and the 1737 organ console was created by the Viennese sculptor Johann Wagner in 1740. In front of the main entrance are two life-sized lead statues created by Balthasar Moll in 1757. To the left stands King Ludwig I of Hungary and to the right is Heinrich, Margrave of Moravia.

The older part of the building, built in 1690, contains the Gnadenkapelle. This chapel sits on the site of the first “cell” and holds a Late Romanesque miraculous image of the Virgin Mary – the “Magna Mater Austria” – a 48 cm tall statuette made of linden.

The following photos of the inside are stolen with my cell-phone because taking photos is not allowed, plus they were celebrating Mass, so I had to be discreet and couldn’t wandering around freely….too bad, because the interiors are stunning….

There are three basic legends about the founding of Mariazell and its development. The legend of the towns founding says that in 1157, the St. Lambrecht Monk Magnus was sent to the area of the current town as a minister. When his way was blocked by a rock, he set down the Marian figurine he had brought with him, whereby the rock broke apart and left Magnus’ way clear. On a nearby bank, he settled down, placed the figurine on a tree trunk, and built a cell out of wood, which served as both his chapel and his living quarters.

The second legend relates how Henry Margrave of Moravia and his wife, having been healed of severe gout through the help of Our Lady of Mariazell made a pilgrimage to that place around 1200. There they built the first stone church on the site of the wooden chapel.

The third legend recounts a victorious battle of the Hungarian King Ludwig I over a numerically superior Turkish army. Out of thanks he built the gothic church and endowed it with the “Schatzkammerbild” (“treasury image“) that he saw laid upon his chest in a dream.

Walking outside the view is not bad neither…..

After our visit we found out that the place is twinned with Esztergom in Hungary and Loreto in Italy, both with a basilica with a wooden Madonna, and we visited both.

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Posted by on August 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


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