Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Mariazell Basilica

On arriving in Mariazell, visitors are amazed by the wide range of languages, peoples and cultures they encounter. It is a town with an 850 year history and reflects the full diversity of European life. Many generations have left their traces here, as attested to by the treasure chambers, votive images and streams of countless pilgrims. The holy statue of the Blessed Virgin in Mariazell, known as Magna Mater Austriae, Magna Hungarorum Domina and Mater Gentium Slavorum, is a symbol for people searching for meaningful goals in their own lives. As one of Europe's most renowned pilgrimage sites, Mariazell is a member of the "Shrines of Europe", along with Fatima, Lourdes, Loretto, Altötting and Czestochowa.

The Mariazell Basilica (also the Basilica Mariä Geburt or in english, the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary) is the most important pilgrimage destination in Austria and one of the most important in Europe. In the church, a miraculous wooden image of the Virgin Mary is honoured.
The territory around Mariazell was given to the Monastery of St. Lambrecht around 1103, and the monks built cells there in order to serve the local residents. Legends give the town's founding day as December 21, 1157, but it is first documented in 1243. A Marian altar was dedicated there in 1266.

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 baroqueified 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.

In 1907, the pilgrimage church was elevated to a basilica minor. The basilica has been undergoing a general restoration since 1992, which is expected to be completed in 2007. 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.

Pilgrims were already making their way to the Marian sanctuary in the 12th century. Larger numbers of pilgrims are documented beginning around 1330, when a secular court imposed a "Zellfahrt" ('Zell journey) as atonement for its criminals. In the following years increasing numbers of pilgrims came from neighboring lands. After the Counter-Reformation, the Habsburgs made Mariazell a national sanctuary. However, in 1783, Emperor Joseph II dissolved the monastery in Mariazell, and in 1787, he completely banned pilgrimages there. After the early withdrawal of the restrictions, today around a million pilgrims visit Mariazell each year. In May 2004, the Central European Catholic Day (mitteleuropäische Katholikentag) took place there.

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.

The Chapel of the Holy Spring was constructed near to the basilica in 1711 by Abbot Anton Stroz of Saint Lambrecht. The spring is claimed to have healing powers for eye ailments. In the baroque altar is a seated Madonna with Child from the 15th century, to the left and right are statues of St Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin. The healing water flows from vessels held by angels flanking the altar. One enters the square building with two bays through a portal with a triangular gable. In the interior one sees a mirror ceiling with a surrounding cornice on flat pilasters. In the middle of the ceiling fresco, the Holy Spirit glides over the waters. All further depictions also refer to the healing spring: Moses striking water from the rocks, Jesus with the Samaritan at the well, Naaman bathing in the Jordan, and the healing of the blind man at the pool of Siloe.

Leaving the basilica via the south exit one comes to the Chapel of St Michael. This Late Gothic octagonal building with round tracery windows dates from the end of the 15th century and in the past served as a chamel house for bones from the closed graveyard around the church. The undercroft still has this function. The upper floor, with the stellar-ribbed vault, is used for masses and christenings. The altarpiece from 1754 depicts Saint Michael; the cross once stood in the basilica. After the fire in 1827, the roof of the Chapel of St Michael was replaced and was built lower down than the original roof.

Basilica Mariazell
Holy Mass:
Sundays and holidays: 6am (July-August), 8am, (9am), 10am, 11:15am and 6:30pm.
Weekdays: 8am, 10am, 11:15am and 6:30pm.
Rosary: Daily 6pm with benediction.
Processions with candles: Every Saturday and one day before the most important holidays at 8:30pm.
Consecration of devotional objects: Daily at the full hour from 8am to 12am and 2pm to 6pm.
Benediction of vehicles: Sundays and holidays at 2pm.
Confessions: Daily from 8am - 12am and from 6pm to 7pm.
Reservation of Holy Masses: In the northern sacristy or by telephone +43/3882/2595
Treasuries: Open from Tuesday till Saturday: 10am till 3pm. Sundays and holydays: 11am till 3 and 4pm. On Monday closed!

If your looking for a place to stay, try out Hotel Haus Franziskus.
Hotel Haus Franziskus enjoys a quiet location on the border of Mariazell and St. Sebastian, only a 10-minute walk from the centre of Mariazell, Austria's most famous pilgrimage site with its impressive basilica. The city centre can also be reached via a footpath leading past the Hotel. From the Hotel restaurant and the garden you can enjoy a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. The hotel features include an outdoor panorama terrace, a winter garden, a children's play room and its own chapel.

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