Pauline’s Fathers’ Monastery Mariahilf ob Passau
The complex is not extensive, nor does it boast any magnificent architecture but it is a compact group of buildings that cleverly exploits its hilltop position. This makes Mariahilf an aesthetically pleasing place of pilgrimage which most pilgrims approach via the pilgrimage steps. This “heavenly ladder” (321 steps) is a covered staircase leading from the Passau Innstadt to the top of the hill. Pilgrims kneel and pray at each step, approaching the place of grace in a particularly memorable manner.
The design of the church interior is extremely simple but nevertheless rich in perspective and suited to the pilgrimage. The east bay of three-bay nave is interrupted by low transept arms. Behind this is the semi-circular choir, divided up by pilasters and barrel vaults. The west bay is occupied by a two-bay gallery. The walls of the nave consist of broad Tuscan pilasters connected by an entablature strip which also surrounds the choir.
History of Pilgrimage
The diocesan town of Passau has long been a centre of religious life in Bavaria and Austria. In 1611, Prince-Bishop Archduke Leopold of Austria brought to Passau, his town of residence, a painting of the Mother of God tenderly embraced by the Child Jesus. The painting was the work of Lucas Cranach the Elder, a leading German painter, and was probably produced after 1537.
This outstanding painting was greatly admired by the Passau Cathedral Dean Baron Marquard von Schwendi. He had two copies of the painting made, one of which he hung in a wooden chapel in his garden at the foot of what is today known as Mariahilf hill. After having several visions of Our Lady, he decided in 1622 to re-locate the chapel with the painting to the top of the hill and to open the chapel to all the faithful. Interest was so great and the crowds of pilgrims so large that in 1624 he had to start building a church, which was completed in 1627.
From 1631 onwards, it came under the aegis of the Capucin monks from the nearby hospice and from the monastery in the Passau Innstadt. They made Mariahilf into a major centre of pilgrimage for Central and South-East Europe, especially after the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks in 1683, seen by many as a response to appeals to Our Lady of the Succours.
Regular processions and pilgrimages to Mariahilf still take place today.