The Assumption of the Virgin Mary at the pilgrimage church Maria Saal

Birgit Stegbauer

August 15th is a particular highlight in the catholic religious calendar, in particular for the pilgrimage church of Maria Saal, which is dedicated to the Mother of God. Presided over by ecclesiastical dignitaries, traditional costume groups, the village music band and pilgrims from near and far come together on this very day in Maria Saal to celebrate mass. Part of the ceremony is the blessing of the herbs.

In the days pleading up to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary the countrywomen used to bind together little bouquets made out of wild herbs, which are called 'Buschen'. To do so, a variety of herbs were needed - and it was important that their number added up to a magic number (Buschen with 7 herbs, 9 herbs, 12 herbs, and more). The Buschen were blessed during the Assumption mass and afterwards put onto the 'Herrgottswinkel', that is the family altar in the traditional wooden 'Stube', where they dried. These Buschen were said to have special healing powers for humans as well as for animals. The women of the Maria Saal costume group maintains this tradition even now and after mass on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary sells blessed 'Buschen' for charitable purposes.

Founded around 760 AC by Saint Modestus, who christianised from here Lower and Central Carinthia, Maria Saal has been a place of St. Mary's pilgrimage for many centuries and also one of the oldest and most esteemed catholic churches of Carinthia right up to the present day.

The dome of Maria Saal was erected during the years 1430 to 1459 in the late gothic style. When the troops of the Ottoman Empire attacked Carinthia in the 1470ies and 1480ies, the church and the adjoining buildings were fortified and served as a defence. In 1669 a huge fire from the village spread to the church and destroyed the roof, the church bells and the high altar. The repairs gave the church its present shape. This is also when the so-called 'Maria Saalerin', Carinthia's largest bell was created. It weighs 6.600 kg and is cast from the bronze of cannons captured from the Turkish army when they were defeated in the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

Art works from various eras are to be found inside the church: The mortal remains of Saint Modestus rest in a roman-antique child's marble sarcophagus. Rich late gothic net and stellar vaults cover the ceilings of the three naves and three apses. Two winged altars and frescoes with the genealogical tree of Christ and scenes from the childhood of Jesus also date back to a time around 1500. The high altar, designed to frame a gothic miraculous image of the Virgin Mary, is worked in the baroque style, so are the pulpit and the statue of St. Nepomuk. Finally there is a fresco painted in 1928 by the Carinthian artist Herbert Boeckl. The artwork was much discussed and disliked because of its shocking realism and was therefore covered until 1981.

An excursion to Maria Saal can easily be combined with a visit to the Carinthia Open Air Museum / Kärntner Freilichtmuseum Maria Saal. The museum comprises of traditional farmhouses and yards from all over Carinthia, which were re-located to the museum area. The intention is to give the visitor an insight into former rural life and working conditions.

Dom Maria Saal

Domplatz 1, 9063 Maria Saal

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary mass on the 15th of August at 10 a.m.

Carinthian Open Air Museum / Freilichtmuseum Maria Saal

Museumweg 10, 9063 Maria Saal

Phone: 04223-3166

Other recommendations