Austria′s main Church of Pilgrimage -
The basilica itself dates back to the 13th century and was extended in the course of the counter-reformation in the 17th century. From the outside, it can hardly compare to truly attractive churches in Austria - it consists of several Gothic and Baroque elements rather strangely arranged with little sense of uniformity.
The interiors of the basilica is more impressive and will lead you directly to the 11th century statue of the Virgin Mary, dressed in silver skirts and housed in the Gnadenkapelle ("Chapel of Mercy"). The main altar of the basilica is naturally at the end of the nave and was built in the 17th century by Fischer von Erlach, Austria′s top-notch national architect and architect of the Baroque age.
Along the flanks of the main nave you can follow an array of chapels and niches full of altars and shrines, often containing relics. The most significant ones are the entire bodies of the Saints Paulilus and Modestus. They are on display in glass shrines, dressed in elaborately decorated robes. If you find this awkward, you should go to Palermo in Sicily and visit the Capuchin catacombs with its 8,000 dead bodies on display.
Things to See at and around Mariazell
Back to Styria: Watch out for the so-called "Votivgaben", little gifts offered to the Virgin Mary to express gratefulness for aid. Most commonly they are done in so-called "Votivtafeln", stereotypical paintings on wooden plates that depict the Virgin Mary and a scene in which she can be seen to help somebody. These plates are an interesting example of Austrian folk art and can be seen in a similar fashion in many churches of pilgrimage all over the country - number and quality of those in Mariazell, however, literally illustrate the importance of this basilica. Most of them were made in the 19th century.
The treasury is run as a museum these days and you can see a large collection of religious silverware and other artwork, including a 14th century painting presented to Mariazell by the grateful King of Hungary. Outside of the church, a short walk around the village of Mariazell will easily cover everything there is to see: Mostly shops that sell devotional souvenirs and other references to the place as a centre of pilgrimage. Attractions in the surroundings are primarily the mountains and hills, some of which offer attractive hiking opportunities.
For connections to other areas of interest, you can either go to the north (there is a very scenic and thus highly recommendable train route to St Pölten in Lower Austria) or to the south, for example, to see the Mur River valley with the towns of Leoben and Eisenerz. The monastery of Admont lies to the West and is a bit of a journey, but well worth seeing.
Return to "Mariazell - Part I"
Back to: "Styria Sightseeing Guide"