Mariazell, Austria′s main Church of Pilgrimage
North of the pretty Hochberg Mountains, on Styria′s border to Lower Austria, you will find Austria′s most important church of pilgrimage: Mariazell. The village of Mariazell itself is very pretty by its own rights, but the approximate 200,000 pilgrims come mostly for the large basilica dominating the settlement.
The history of religious activities in this place goes back to 1157, when monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Lambach built a missionary base here. At some point in the following decades, a statue of the Virgin Mary with little Jesus became increasingly famous for its healing powers and pilgrims started to flock into Mariazell. At first this was at small numbers, but things changed dramatically after 1377. In this year, the King of Hungary won a battle against the usual suspects, the Turkish Army, and considered the aid of the Virgin Mary of Mariazell a crucial factor in his victory. From then on, Mariazell was tremendously popular among Catholics particularly Hungarians.
A Multi-Ethnic, Pan-Catholic Centre
With the consolidation of the Habsburg Empire and a general emphasis on Catholicism in the years of the Counter Reformation starting with the late 17th century, the importance of Mariazell increased again. Since the Habsburgs derived the justification for their office from papal approval (thus "Holy Roman Empire of German Nation"), they underlined the uniting aspect of their multi-ethnic possessions to be within religious beliefs - namely Catholicism. They utilized Mariazell as a church of pilgrimage for all the Catholic peoples of their lands, making it something like the Austrian national pilgrimage hub.
Mariazell proved to be so popular, that landlords lost entire crops because their workers had run off the fields to worship the virgin in Styria. A smart solution to this issue can be seen in the basilica of Frauenkirchen in the Burgenland, which was built by the Princes of Esterhazy to prevent a constant drift of Catholic workers to Mariazell.
Even today, Mariazell is not an Austrian church of pilgrimage, but rather a Central European one, attracting pilgrims from Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia alongside with Austrians. Summer weekends are particularly busy and so are - obviously - holidays of the Virgin Mary. This applies in particular to August the 15th, September the 8th and December the 8th.
Continue with "Mariazell - Part II"
Back to: "Styria Sightseeing Guide"
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