Maria Strassengel Pilgrimage Church
The pilgrimage church Maria Straßengel is one of the most beautiful high Gothic sacred buildings in Austria and is known as the “Styrian Steffl”. During a guided tour you can watch the naturally created “root cross”, the “Madonna in Ear Dress”, colorful stained glass and the highest smokehouse in Styria.
Like a fairytale – the impression when you spot the Maria Strassengel pilgrimage church a few kilometres north of Graz. Perched on a hill, the small settlement round the church is visible from afar. Presbytery, taverna, the decorously baroque ‘new building’ and the enchanting pilgrimage church make up the attractive ensemble. With its slender sandstone spire, rich architectural sculpture and original 14th century stained glass, it’s one of Austria’s most important High Gothic sacral buildings.As early as the 12th century, a picture of the Virgin Mary, which was a gift to the monastery of Rein from Margrave Otakar III, was worshipped on the hill of Strassengel. About one hundred years later, another object of worship was added: the so-called "Wurzelkreuz", a crucifix having grown from the root of a fir tree on the hill and showing a naturalistic image of Christ. Even modern examinations have found no evidence that the 18cm cross has ever been touched by a knife.
Today's pilgrimage church of Strassengel was erected in the middle of the 14th century probably by members of the Viennese stonemasons' lodge who built St. Stephan's Cathedral ("Steffl") there. The "Styrian Steffl" is dominated by its openwork spire of 48 metres. A closer look will reveal figurative portrayals of then dignitaries of church and state and life-size sculptures of the Virgin Mary and seven angels. Above the entrance gates - impressive sculptured figures, inside - elaborate keystones and columns. The sanctuary is bathed in mystic light from the stained glass windows. Many of them originate from the 14th century and portray, e.g., legends of the lives of some saints and the Virgin and scenes of Christ's passion.
The two magnificent Baroque paintings at the altars of St. Sebastian and St. Nepomuk were made by the famous Austrian artist Johann Martin Schmidt ("Kremser Schmidt") in 1781. On top of the Rococo pulpit, two angels are holding a copy of the "Wurzelkreuz". In 1976, the original "Wurzelkreuz" and the picture at the high altar "Maria im Ährenkleid" (painted around 1430) were stolen. While the crucifix reappeared, the picture of the Virgin Mary was never found and was replaced by a copy.
By the way: In 1782 Emperor Joseph II closed the church and even intended to tear it down. A petition presented to the emperor by the communities belonging to the Strassengel church district managed to prevent the church from being destroyed and saved this Gothic gem for future generations.