The pilgrimage church on Lake Constance
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The church of St. Mary, known as "Basilica Birnau", rises on the northern shore of Lake Constance in the Birnau district of Uhldingen-Mühlhofen, a resort for 7000 inhabitants. The Roman Catholic Basilica Birnau is one of the most important baroque pilgrimage churches in the region. The church is assigned to the local Cistercian priory of the territorial abbey Wettingen-Mehrerau on the Austrian shore of Lake Constance, but also serves as a parish church.
History of the church
In the early Middle Ages there was a pilgrimage chapel near the present location of the St. Mary's Church in Uhldingen-Mühlhofen, which belonged to the Imperial Abbey of Salem, but whose grounds were surrounded by the territory of Überlingen, which at that time was the imperial city. A special attraction for pious pilgrims was the 80 cm high picture of the Virgin Mary, erected in 1420, which was said to have miraculous effects.
Plans by the Cistercians to relocate the Chapel of Mary to the monastery grounds a few kilometres away led at the beginning of the 18th century to fierce disputes with the local population and the self-confident imperial city of Überlingen. Nevertheless, the monastery finally prevailed and had the Old-Birnau chapel demolished with papal permission.
New-Birnau was built between 1742 and 1750 under the direction of the leading Baroque architect Peter Thumb on a high and picturesque promontory on the banks of the river in the middle of the monastery vineyards and near Maurach Castle, which served the monastery as a farm building. In 1803 the territory of the dissolved imperial abbey of Salem fell to the margraviate of Baden. The Birnau monastery was closed and the church fell into disrepair.
In 1919 the Bregenz Territorial Abbey Wettingen-Mehrerau acquired the pilgrimage church of Birnau and Maurach Castle. After an extensive renovation, pilgrimage operations were resumed and the Basilica Birnau quickly became an important destination for pilgrims and those interested in art history.
In 1971 Pope Paul VI awarded St. Mary the honorary title of "Basilica minor". Almost 20 Marian pilgrimages attract tens of thousands of pilgrims every year. Birnau is also a popular wedding church and one of the most visited tourist attractions on Lake Constance.
Architecture and design
The long, naveless church nave (almost 50 m long) is closed on the Lake Constance side by a transverse building parallel to the shoreline in which the residential and administrative rooms of the priory and the monastery shop are located. On this 35 m long transept, which serves as a representative showpiece, rises the mighty 51 m high bell tower of the Birnau pilgrimage church, decorated in white and old pink.
The interior, designed as a hall church, is divided into three parts and tapers towards the apse. The decoration of the sacred room is characterised by exuberant rococo splendour.
Among the most important elements are:
- the cycle of paintings by the painter Gottfried Bernhard Göz, Mariologically determined and aligned with the image of Mary at the main altar,
- three ceiling frescos,
- ten watches and
- a mighty organ
Based on the seven altars in the Roman St. Peter's Basilica, Birnau also has seven altars.
|daily||07:30 am - 07:00 pm|
|daily||07:30 am - 05:00 pm|
|Admission to the Basilica is free of charge.|
|Every Thursday (except on Corpus Christi Day and Ascension Day) from mid-May to mid-September, a free guided tour is offered at 03:00 pm. Several times a year there are concerts in the church in Birnau.|