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Pilgrimages to St Mary's Basilica in Absam

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The Basilica in the morning sun
If you are looking for a quiet refuge to find yourself and to develop new ideas, then take a special path that starts in the Absam Basilica in Tyrol. Those seeking a new route in life will find inspiration from an image of the Virgin Mary. Displayed on the wall in a side altar is a portrait of the Virgin Mary, which miraculously appeared on the window pane in a farmhouse on 17 January 1797. The first person to see it was a young girl by the name of Rosina Puecher, who was sitting in her parlour at home busy with her embroidery.

Science sought in vain to explain this miracle. At the request of the villagers, the picture was put on display in Absam's parish church. Since that day, this pretty village near Hall in Tirol has become an important place of pilgrimage and the faithful flock here from far afield. "Maria Absam" – Tyrol's most important Marian shrine – is for many believers a place to find consolation and hope. On several occasions during the 19th century, members of the Austrian Imperial family came here as pilgrims to pay their respects to the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary.
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A picture by the painter Jutta Katharina Kiechl from the "Angel of the Lord" cycle in St Mary's Court

The "Angel of the Lord" cycle can be seen in the fully re-designed St Mary's Court outside the basilica. "Anyone who stops to meditate quietly will sense the messages the images convey. God became man, so that through him we can grow the roots for our salvation," explains Dean Martin Ferner.

The west side of the chapel was also rebuilt and added to it was a special glass altar and glass figures, which form a thematic link to the series of paintings outside. On the first Sunday in every month at 2.00 pm, a monthly pilgrimage takes place, starting with the rosary prayer and then the blessing of the sick. Groups of pilgrims may at any time ask to hold a prayer meeting or a special pilgrimage service.

The appartition of the Virgin Mary

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The apparition of the Virgin Mary

Let us read what Johann Puecher, Rosina's brother, wrote about what happened in 1797 in their father's house. At the age of 76, he wrote the following in the presence of two witnesses: "On the afternoon of 17 January 1797 my sister, a grown girl (18 years of age) by the name of Rosina was sitting at the table sewing in the ground-floor room opposite the window. Then she suddenly looked up – between 3 to 4 o'clock (i.e. afternoon) – and saw what had never been seen before, drawn on a window pane, an image of Mary, the Mother of God.

She called to her mother, who was also present, but in another part of the room. Mother hurried over and was initially quite frightened, when she saw the image of the Holy Virgin, as she thought an accident could have befallen father or myself in the salt-mine where we worked. She said to sister Rosanna that we should pray; and that is what happened. After saying their prayers, the mother wiped the picture with a cloth; but look, scarcely had she wiped it off, but it was back just as it was before. The apparition of the image took place on a Tuesday, and on the Thursday, me and my father came home perfectly well from the mountain. We looked with joy and amazement at what we had occurred. On 17th January 1797 I was in my 16th year and have retained in my memory everything that happened on that day."
(The original copy of this record is in private ownership. It was taken in an abridged from the 1955 Parish News no.2)
Academics from the University of Innsbruck, such as the mathematician Franz von Zollinger, the chemistry professor Dr. Schöpfer, the renowned fresco painter Josef Schöpf from Telfs, two master glazers Messrs. Schwänninger and Appeller checked the image in the presence of church and secular representatives. For the faithful of Absam and the whole of Tyrol, there was no mistake. "Where the Son stays, there must be a place for the Mother too!" These were the words of the people as a procession on the 24th of June 1797 followed the miraculous image of the Virgin Mary to the church amid a ceremonial peal of all the bells.

A major pilgrims' route runs past Absam Basilica

Absam Basilica at the Tyrolean Way of St James

Following the route pilgrims have taken for centuries, many of today's pilgrims take the Way of St James through the Hall-Wattens region and find inner peace and harmony here. The pilgrims' path passes through four villages of the region and the town of Hall in Tirol covering a total of 17km. In Gnadenwald it runs past the idyllic St Martin Monastery, a Gothic construction, which in 1445 was a hermitage. Some 5.5km further on pilgrims invariably stop off to see the image of the Virgin Mary in Absam Basilica and spend time in meditation there. With its narrow and picturesque lanes and impressive Gothic and Baroque churches, the Old Town of Hall in Tirol forms a unique ensemble. In what is the oldest, explicitly named settlement in the central Inntal Valley, the crib village of Thaur, walkers are always keen to take a look at the St Romedius Church, which is dedicated to St Peter and Paul.

"The path is the ultimate symbol of our life. Our life story is full of false starts, departures, detours, meanderings, cul-de-sacs, labyrinths and destinations." The Path of Contemplation from Absam to Gnadenwald also helps those seeking to banish every day cares and worries. This romantic track runs for about an hour through sub-Alpine forest at the foot of the Karwendel mountain range between Absam and Gnadenwald.

The nine stations along the route address in different ways the Beatitudes; they provide an opportunity to escape the noise, the hustle and bustle, the speed and the stress, to spend time reflecting and looking within. Every station provides an opportunity to look beyond the daily round to what really matters in life. Attention is focussed on hopes and anxieties, brief moments of happiness, the questions and the doubts that arise in life. If the walker treads the Path of Contemplation with an open mind, he will enjoy delightful moments of spiritual unity, he might even come to appreciate that the sentiments expressed in the Beatitudes are central to everyday life. At the end of the trail near the St Martin Monastery in Gnadenwald is the stone maze, a place to enjoy peace and tranquillity.