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xEurasia Odyssey

Austrian Marian Pilgrimage Churches: Maria Trost, Maria Plain, Maria Taferl & Celtic spirits

AUSTRIA | Wednesday, 7 August 2013 | Views [3670] | Comments [4]


Maria Trost, Maria Plain, Maria Taferl & Celtic Spirits


I have written about Maria Zell and pilgrimage churches in the journal on the Hapsburgs and Vienna, so I will not go into any detail on these three additional remarkable pilgrimage destinations.  If you are interested in the specifics on any one of them, please email me through the comment section so that I can elaborate in a way that everyone can access. 

In general these Austrian pilgrimage churches were all established in the early Middle Ages, approximately from 1100 to 1300, although Maria Trost is a bit earlier.  All had some miracle that occurred at the site for which the Virgin Mary offered protection.  The miracles are demonstrated in the artwork in the churches themselves.  All three have undergone extensive renovations across the centuries and are now in an updated 18th C form, with late 20th C organs, heating and lighting. Each of the churches has relics, a famous person whose body is entombed in the church, in order to gather more pilgrims.  & for my research, it is fascinating to know that there was a Celtic sacred site in the area or on the exact spot prior to the church’s construction. All three (four if one includes Maria Zell) are hills that overlook the entire valley; scenically Hollywood could not have picked more spectacular sites for each of the regions. They all have holy wells nearby and Maria Taferl still has the Celtic Megalithic stone just to the east of the Church.


The Austrian Rococo style predominates at these “Basilica minors,’ which is a special designation within the Roman Catholic hierarchy of church institutions. Inside they are sheer spectacle, while on the outside the two large towers dominate the three aisle constructions.  Each of the churches now has additional buildings off the main church so that they visually represent the vast presence of the Divine over the valley below and surrounding hillsides.


Beyond the formal pilgrimage churches, the Celtic spirit is still alive in the people of the region.  A friend and I went on a walk not far from her house in the foothills outside of Salzburg to a little waterfall.  It was a delightful place and when I mentioned that it was a perfect “fairy garden” she pointed to the candles, flowers and other objects that had been left on a ledge as offerings to the Celtic spirits. Time passes but things do cycle around and around and around like that Admont spiral staircase.


Just as fyi to help understand the pictures;


From Maria Plain Pamphlets (translation is mine, so I am responsible for all mistakesJ:


1300 years ago St. Rupert and his followers came over the Plainberg to the old Roman city of Juvavum (Salzburg) to share the good news of the Gospel. Over 300 years ago the Church on the Plainberg was built and has been a pilgrimage destination to honor the Mother of God, the Mother of Comfort, ever since.


1633 the Mercy picture (Gnadenbild) “Maria Trost” was created by an unknown artist and came into the possession of a family in Regen in Lower Bavaria. It was known as a miracle working picture as it was left basically undamaged after a huge fire decimated the village. The wife of the caretaker of Fürsteneck, came into possession of the picture and placed it in the Castle chapel. Sometime before 1650 her son, Rudolf von Grimming brought it to Salzburg, where it was in the Castle in Müllegg ( today St. Johann Spital in Salzburg).


1652 The picture was brought by Rudolf von Grimming to the original chapel on the Plainberg, where it immediately became an object of honor. Unfortunate circumstances made it necessary for the original painting to be brought back to Müllegg in 1653, then after his move to Nesselwang in Schwaben in 1658 the painting landed there.  In place of the original painting, he had a copy made that today still hangs in the original chapel.


The high altar has a picture of the Ascension of Mary and a round painting of the Holy Triity, flanked by the large figures of St.s Vital and Maximilian as well as Rpert and Virgin (im Aufstaz) In front the richly framed Mercy picture “Maria Trost”.


On the Left the Cross altar with the images of the Crucifixion and in the round picture his ascension.


On the Right is the Josef altar with images of the Marriage of Mary and in the round picture the flight to Egypt.  All three altars were dedicated in 1673-1674.




The Rosenkranzkönigin hangs in the middle. She is a silver covered wooden statue from 1675.


The angel leading the child is on the 14 Emergency helpers Altar, which includes picture of the 14 Helpers & St. Waldburga, flanked by Sts. Peter and Paul.




Maria Trost Basilica Pamphlet Notes:


The pilgrimage church is situated at the top of the Purberg (470m) to the NE of Graz. It is the second most important Marian church in Styria.  It was built in the Baroque period, with 2 5-story towers and a dome.  The foundation stone for the church was laid on 18 Sept. 1714.  Pauline hermits were responsible for the spiritual welfare of the faithful until the dissolution of the monastery by Emperor Joseph II in 1786. The church was made the parish church of a new parish and was run by diocesan priests.  In 1846 Franciscans took over administration of the pilgrimage church.  After 150 years the Franciscan order was forced to give up the monastery of Maria-trost.  In 1996, possession of the monastery and church was transferred to the dioceses and the diocesan priests took over.  In 1999 John Paul II elevated the pilgrimage church to the status of “basilica minor.”


Over 200 steps lead up to the church.


The pulpit is considered the highlight of the church. It was created by Veit Koeniger.  Built in 1730, it was adorned with reliefs from the life of Our Lady.  On the abat-voix, miraculous healings of the sick are portrayed, as well as a woman with a cross (faith).  This woman and the two other women on the pulpit balustrade, one with an anchor representing hope, the other with a burning heart representing love, symbolize the three divine virtues.


The large altar on the south side of the transept is dedicated to St. Joachim.  The painting is by Lukas von Schram. The two statues are the work of Veit Koeniger (1779).  On the left is John the Baptist and on the right St. Elizabeth.


The oil painting of the Assumption in the transept is by Veit Hauckh; the nativity scene painting is by Joseph Adam Moelck.


The statue of grace in the center dates back to around 1465 and is by Gazarolli.  Mary’s face is exceptionally beautiful and her demeanour is noble.  It was re-designed with Baroque elements by Berhard Echter in 1695.  It was originally located on an altar in the foundation church of Rein.  The abbot there gave it to Johann Maximilian von Wilfersdorff, who put it in his chapel in Purberg.


The high altar with the imposing curved pillars and the large superstructure was donated by Franz Anton von Wagensberg, formerly bishop of Seckau.  A Graz stonemason executed this work on the basis of designs by Lukas von Schram.  There is a cartouche above the glory with the inscription: Solatium vitae nostrae”.  Above this rises a baldachin adorned with scrolls and with golden wreaths.  The altar is marble, which was mined from the mountain.


Dome and Fresco in the Presbyterium:


The fresco in the dome by imperial court painter Lukas von Schram (1733-1741) depicts the final mystery of the Rosary: “ Who crowned you O Virgin in heaven.” Above the oval dome windows are the just men and women of the Old Testament: Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel and Judith. The Apostiles and the evangelists are portrayed below the oval windows: Matthew (money chest), Mark (image of Jesus), Luke (bull), and John (eagle).  The four Western Fathers of the Church are seated above the supporting pillars: Gregory (crown), Jerome (lion), Ambrose (beehive), and Augustine (heart).


The fresco in the presbyterium depicts the story of the struggle and the victory of the church under the protection of the archangel Michael, Constantia et fortitudo – constancy and courage are the weapons of the church, the cross and the Eucharist are its victorious powers.  Philosophers turn their attention to the new teaching, while paganism exhausts itself in futile orgies.  The four allegorical female figures symbolize the four parts of the world. Africa at the back to the left, Europe at the back to the right, Asia at the front on the right and America at the front on the left.




Birth of Our Lady Altar:


The altar is on the north side of the transept and was executed by Lukas von Schram.  The sculptures are by Josef Schokotnikh. On the left is st. Joseph, on the right St. Leopold, the Margrave of Austria.  The midwife presents the child surrounded by light in the foreground, while in the left background is the happy mother, St. Anne. Above this a colorful group of heavenly angels hovers, paying homage to the child who is their future queen. The gilded shrine containing the relics of the martyr-priest Bonus is located under this altar painting.




First ceiling fresco after the Dome: The glorious victory over the Turks near Vienna (1683) was attributed to the intercession of Our Lady.  Emperor Leopold and his retinue are portrayed giving thanks.  An angel announces our Lady’s fame with a bell formed from the letters of the name MARIA.




Oratory windows: The double-headed eagle with the crown and insignia as the emblems of the Austrian imperial family is above the oratory windows.




Sarcophagus: The gilded shrine in the left side aisle contains the relics of the matyr-priest bonus, which were brought here from Rome in 1746.




Fresco Julian the Apostate: The fesco in the nave was painted by Johann Baptist Scheidt (1752-1754).  It portrays Julian, who persecuted and oppressed Christians. In the decisive battle he falls from his horse, struck by an arrow, and in a tone of resignation his is forced to concede: “Galilean, you have won!” Paganism lies shattered on the ground.




Archangel Michael Altar: The back altar on the north wall of the church is that of the archangel St. Michael.  It was donated by Johannes Ferdinand Graf von Morelli.  The fresco portrays the archangel Michael plunging the rebellious angels into the depths and shouting his battle cry: “Who is like God?”




A large organ was installed in 1928. The two figures are David playing the harp and St. Cecilia with the organ.  Angels play the violin, the flute, drums, trombones, trumpets and kettledrums.  The organ case is one of the most magnificent in Austria. The present organ was constructed in 1993.




Fresco above the Music Choir: The victorious general Don Juan of Austria thanks the mother of God for his victory over the Turks in the battle of Lepanto in 1571.  The feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary was inaugurated to commemorate this victory. (Holy Day 7 Oct.)


Tower Chapel: The Lourdes grotto of 1890 is by sculptor Peter Neuboeck.




Holy Family Altar: The grandmother of Jesus, St. Anne, is depicted in the center, with the boys Jesus and John the Baptist playing in the foreground.  St. Elizabeth, the mother of John, is nearby, and in the background are Joseph and Zacharias as well as St. Joachim, the grandfather of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit hovers in the form of a dove above the united family, while God the Father gazes lovingly at this earthly paradise.  The altar was donated by Josef Graf Wurmbrand.  On the beams of the altar are Turkish slave fetters that were offered by men who were allowed to return home from Turkish imprisonment.




Founder fresco: The ceiling painting behind the high altar commemorates the founder of this place of grace, Franz Caspar Conduzi, who together with his wife is offering the foundation letter to Our Lady. The church as portrayed in the painting was not yet known to Conduzi but appeared to him in a vision.










I would like to use what you wrote about Maria Taferl in our parish website. Do you give me the permission to do that ? Thanks a lot. hugues defrenne France

  hugues defrenne Sep 16, 2014 4:46 AM


Of course! Thank you for asking.

  Krista Rodin Sep 16, 2014 10:08 AM



I visited the basilica today and was amazed by its beauty. One of my favourite places I have ever visited based on how unexpected it was to me!

Two things have really intone. 1. The martyr priest Bonus. & 2. Falicianus Martyr. Do you have more nformation about these two people?

Thank you.

  Jonathan Jun 16, 2017 5:29 AM


Thank you for the follow up question. According to a book that was published for the 225 anniversary of Maria Trost, St. Bonus was one of the 8 saints who were decapitated for their faith and loyalty to Bishop Stephan by the Roman Emperors Valerius and Gallienus in 257 CE. Eucebius mentions these saints by name in his work. No one knows how his bones made it to Maria Trost. It is also completely unclear who exactly St. Felicianus was and how he came to the Basilica. It was common, however, for church fathers to find relics from across Christendom and bring them to their churches to foster pilgrimages. Maria Trost, clearly does not need to resort to this, but that may be in part an explanation for the remains of these two priests who had nothing to do with Austria or the region being housed in the Basilica.
I'm glad you enjoyed your time there and hope the blog was somewhat helpful.

  Krista Jun 16, 2017 6:11 AM

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