Carinthia′s most photo-graphed Church
The small village of Heiligenblut (see picture) is among the most touristy spots in Carinthia - alongside with Maria Wörth, Velden, Hochosterwitz and Gurk. In the case of Heiligenblut, this is due to the Nationalpark Hohe Tauern and the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße. The latter one is the panoramic road leading to the glacier and summit of Austria′s highest mountain and the second-most heavily visited attraction of Austria (after the Habsburg′s summer palace Schönbrunn).
The name Heiligenblut means "Holy Blood". There is a nice little legend that aims to explain the name: In 914, a Danish prince called Briccius was travelling home, coming from Constantinople. When he passed the area of today′s Heiligenblut, he was killed by an avalanche. When locals came to retrieve the body, they found his leg pointing out of the snow. They took the body to a nearby cemetery and tried to bury Briccius.
The next day, however, the very same leg was pointing out of the grave again, which surely looked somewhat disturbingly. When the villagers examined the leg, they found that Briccius had carried a small vial with the blood of Christ. In order to protect it from robbers, he had cut a wound into his leg and placed the vial in there. The vial was removed and stored appropriately in the local church. The village was then called Heiligenblut and tried to have Briccius sanctified, which never happened.
Heiligenblut: "Best of Austria" Compressed
This story proves impressively that the people of Heiligenblut have a sense for stimulating tourism and merchandising for quite some time. The local church actually did become an unofficial destination for pilgrimages, and a crypt with an altar was built for not-quite-a-saint Briccius. The vial with the supposed blood of Christ is kept in the Sakramentshaus buildings of the church. Today, the church - which dates back to 1491 - is rather famous for its scenic surroundings.
Aside of tourism, the mining of and trade with gold was an important aspect in the region′s economy up to the 20th century. The Tauern Mountain Range was Europe′s most extensive source of gold - which explains the early wealth in the area. Mining was started under Roman rule and ceased only in the 1940ies. Since the 1930ies, skiing has picked up and finally made the area a year-round (or at least bi-seasonal) tourist destination. Hardcore tourism kicked in after 1935, when the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße was opened.
Since then, the formally remote and charming village has gained tons of restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and more souvenir shops. It is still scenic, but if you are looking for a genuine village experience, other places will be more appropriate. Nearby attractions include Lienz in Eastern Tyrol, Gmünd, Spittal an der Drau in Carinthia and Bad Hofgastein in Salzburg.