The Pope may visit Mariazell next year. Jonathan Kemp gets there before him.
LESS THAN 25 years ago Papal travel schedules were restricted bet%% cell the Vatican and Castel Gandolfo. Today the Vatican must have established a special travel bureau to cope with the globe-trotting operations of Pope John Paul II.
This is not the place to criticise the arrangements of the Papal visit to Britain, but it has to be accepted that not everyone is entirely happy about it. Maybe there are those who still expect to see the Pope as a pilgrim rather than that the Faithful should pilgrimage to see the Holy Father. Alas in Britain that will not be the case, unless in an ecumenical spirit Canterbury might be considered as such an occasion.
In 1983 Pope John Paul will visit Austria and there his schedule is expected to include Mariazell.
A visit by a Polish Pope to Mariazell will have especial significance far beyond that of merely praying at a Marian shrine.
The history of this, the most famous Austrian pilgrimage centre goes back to the beginning of the 12th Century when the Benedictine Abbey of St Lambrecht established a 'Zell' here. The word Zell meant that it was a Chapel of Ease attached to a larger foundation, its mother house.
By the year 1330 the Archbishop of Salzburg, which is a good distance from Mariazell, was granting an indulgence to those who visited the shrine. By 1399, when the church had been completed, and as was the case of St Mark's in Venice, the Pope raised visits to Mariazell to the status of a plenary indulgence, if they were undertaken during the Octave of the Assumption of Our Lady.
When in this century Mariazell celebrated the 750th year of its foundation the church was raised to the rank of minor basilica.
M uch of the history of Mariazell has been concerned with the East of Europe. On August 24, 1599 some 23,000 pilgrims processed to the Marian shrine in thanksgiving for a victory over the Turks.
Situated in the Austrian province of Styria not far from the Hungarian border, its kings, princes, bishops and people have shown particular devotion to this shrine. The Ladislaus chapel was founded by a Hungarian Archibishop in 1672, and the mantle and crown of the statue of Our Lady were donated bs Cardinal Rudnay, the Primate of Hungary, and blessed by Pope St. Pius X in 1908.
The Benedictines of Mariazell look back with less affection to another short association with the East, when in 1945 Russian troops occupied it for a short while.
The unexpected Austrian Peace treaty after the second world war, which released Austria from occupation, even from that of the Russians, is attributed to the intercession of Our Lady at Mariazell.
When the heroic Cardinal Myndzenty was finally persuaded H abandon the asylum of the American embassy in Budapest and live in Vienna, the then Primate of Hungary, like so many of his country men before him, came to visit the shrine. Like them, he showed much affection for it. Subsequently the Benedictine Superior of Mariazell Father Hochreiter, who is still Superior, visited Cardinal Myindzenty in Vienna and undertook the delicate task of offering Cardinal Myindzenty a temporary place of rest until he was able to return to his native land. When the Cardinal died he left instructions to be buried at Mariazell, where on the 15th, of May 1975 he was laid to rest in the Ladislaus chapel founded by a previous Primate of Hungary.
Today many pilgrims to the Shrine of Our Lady also come to pay their respects to this great prince of the Church, who was forced to leave his country and has not yet been able to return to it.
Many of Austria's great artists and architects such as Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who was responsible for the high altar, contributed to the beauty of this basilica, but none have been able to match the God given beauty of its setting. Like a diamond set in a ring of sapphires, the church and its town nestle in a hollow surrounded by a wreath of green mountains in the province of. Styria which is described as the green heart of Austria.
It is a pity that relatively few visitors from Britain and Ireland have yet discovered this jewel set in the most breathtaking scenery of Austria.
For the motorist it is easily accessible from Vienna.
Your can speed along the motorway to just beyond Wiener Neustadt, then you slow down to climb to the famous ski resort, The Semmering, and you will not regret the fact that the steep .climb has slowed down your progress, for it will enable you to appreciate the superb views. From here to Mariazell the views compete in beauty with each turn of the road. No wonder that the most popular Habsburg of them all, the Archduke Johann, looked upon Styria as his favourite Austrian province.