Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Austria 2016
Shrines of Europe – The Basilica of Mariazell

ISSUE DATE: 12 May 2016
STAMP DESIGN:Marion Füllerer

Many roads lead not only to Rome, but also to Mariazell. Austrian Post is dedicating a commemorative stamp to this, the most important pilgrimage site in Austria with the Basilica Mariä Geburt (Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary). Mariazell has received the particular honour of being visited by the Pope, namely by Pope Johannes Paul II in 1983 and by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. Since 2004 Mariazell has also been a member of the "Shrines of Europe" association, which also includes the European pilgrimage sites dedicated to the Virgin Mary Lourdes, Loreto, Fatima, Altötting and Częstochowa. 

Mariazell boasts a long history and many legends. It is believed to have been founded on 21st December 1157, at which time a monk by the name of Magnus was charged with the spiritual care of the inhabitants of the region. On his journey he carried with him a statue of the Virgin Mary which he had carved out of lime wood. As legend has it, his path was blocked by a large rock, so he prayed to the Mother of God and the rock suddenly split apart leaving the way free. When he arrived at his destination, Magnus set his statue of the Virgin Mary on a tree stump and built a wooden chapel around it. Over time the town of Mariazell grew up around this "Cella Mariae". According to the legend of Henry, the first church was built in around 1200 thanks to Henry Margrave of Moravia. 

The Margrave was suffering from gout, and in a dream St. Wenceslas told him that if he wished to be healed he should go to Mariazell and build a church there. The church also received a valuable painting of the Virgin Mary after King Louis I of Hungary appealed to "Our Lady at Mariazell" during a battle against the Turks and subsequently emerged victorious. The place name derives from "Maria in der Zelle" (Mary in the cell) and was first mentioned in historical documents in 1243. In 1344 Mariazell was elevated to the status of a market town and was already known as a pilgrimage site during the 14th century. A Gothic church was erected in around 1370. During the Counter-Reformation the Hapsburg rulers made Mariazell a national shrine. The Gothic church was soon too small to cope with the flood of pilgrims, and so a Baroque extension was added in the 17th century. It is precisely this mixture of styles that gives the church, which was elevated to the status of a basilica in 1907, its particular character today. The church has retained its colours of terracotta and white and has a Gothic central tower flanked by two Baroque towers. 

The Baroque high altar, which was consecrated in 1704, was designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The statue of Mary from the legend of its founding is housed in the Gnadenkapelle side chapel. It is a 48-centimetre tall, late Romanesque statue of the Mother of God, the Magna Mater Austriae. The municipality of Mariazell is located in Upper Styria. In addition to pilgrimages, the mountains invite visitors to enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings, whether for hiking in the summer or skiing on the Bürgeralpe in the winter. In terms of area, Mariazell is the largest municipality in Styria and one of the largest in the whole of Austria. It forms part of the Bruck an der Mur region and was elevated to the status of a city in 1948. At present around one million pilgrims visit Mariazell every year.

Stamp images thanks to Austrian Post - Österreichische Post
La Poste