Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn, Penzing:
A Baroque Church of Pilgrimage in Vienna

The Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn is a Baroque church of pilgrimage in the 14th district of Vienna, Penzing. It was once associated with a convent, which is now property of the republic of Austria. The facility is used by the "Bundesforschungs- und Ausbildungszentrum für Wald, Naturgefahren und Landschaft (BFW)", a training centre for forestry, natural disaster prevention and landscape studies, alongside with a small museum of forestry. The Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn is one of the most significant sacral buildings of Penzing, a predominantly residential district; it is one of rather few Baroque churches outside of the former Linienwall city walls, as marked by the Gürtel Road.

The Viennese associate a popular legend with the church; this legend is the origin of the name of both church and neighbourhood: Mariabrunn (Mary′s Fountain). According to this legend, Queen Gisela, mother of King Stephan of Hungary, strolled through the forests of this area in 1024. The queen was sick and looked for a cure or at least to recover on her walk in the woods. When she got thirsty, she sent her servants to look for a spring. They found an old well with a statue of the Holy Virgin in it and collected water from it for the queen. When she drank this water, she became healthy almost instantly. As a sign of grace, Queen Gisela had a chapel built next to the well in which the statue was placed.

Centuries later, during the Hungarian revolt of Matthias Corvinus in 1467, soldiers came and looted the chapel. They threw the statue of the Holy Virgin back into the well. For years after this incident, locals believed to hear angelical music whenever they passed the well. As a result, officials of Emperor Maximilian I were sent to retrieve the statue from the well once again. The chapel now became a popular destination for pilgrims. Like all things associated with pilgrimages, the Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn became a pretty big deal during the age of the counter-reformation. This is where legend ends and historic facts become traceable.

Construction of the current Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn

The current church of pilgrimage was built between 1639 to 1655 by the Italian architect Domenico Carlone. After the Second Siege of the Vienna through the Ottoman Empire, the church was severely battered, but restored in its former glory until 1684. The church was associated with the Augustinian order (Augustinian Hermits), which operated the convent next to the Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn. In 1662, Abraham a Sancta Clara, a legendary preacher and monk, joined the order and spent his year as a novice here at Mariabrunn.

In 1729, the church was extended with an antechapel and received a crucification group. The main altar dates back to the early 18th century; entering the church, visitors will notice the surprisingly elaborate interiors. This was in part due to the ever-flowing income through pilgrims, partly due to donations by members of the Royal Imperial family. The Habsburgs used the nearby Lainzer Tiergarten area as hunting ground and often came to the Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn. The most noteworthy visit of a Habsburg Emperor was in 1782, when Emperor Joseph II said farewell to Pope Pius VI here at Mariabrunn. The Pope had paid a visit to beg the Emperor not to dissolve monasteries and secularise the Habsburg Empire - a reversal of the Medieval Canossa encounter.

In 1828, the Augustinians had to give up the convent and close the facility. The building was made the headquarter of the Imperial academy of forestry and the Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn became an "ordinary" parish church. On a visit of the church, note two things: The splendid interiors and the Baroque fountain next to the church - the very well from the legend told above. Other attractions nearby are sparse; but a visit to the Wallfahrtskirche Mariabrunn can be combined with a hike in the Vienna Woods or the Lainzer Tiergarten. The hills in the surroundings often surprise with impressive vistas on Vienna.

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Further Reading

Website of the Parish Mariabrunn

German Wikipedia on Mariabrunn (with pics)