Day Trip: Wieskirche, the Pilgrimage Church of Wies - Bavarian UNESCO Heritage Site

 // by Sonja Wilms
Day Trip: Wieskirche, the Pilgrimage Church of Wies - Bavarian UNESCO Heritage Site
Friday, 07 May 2021

The Wieskirche, or the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, is one of the most visited churches in Germany with visitor numbers exceeding 1 mln annually. No wonder that tourists from all over the world are willing to visit the church, which is a pretty rococo gem framed into a splendid nature landscape. It is also no wonder that the Wieskirche was admitted on the UNESCO World Culture Heritage List in 1983.

At the Hotel am Badersee you are just one hour drive from the Wieskirche that is located in the green outskirts of the Bavarian locality Steingaden in Pfaffenwinkel area. Along with the Ettal Monastery, Linderhof Royal Castle, and Münter-Haus Museum in Murnau, the Wieskirche belongs to the cultural 'Must Sees' in our region and can be integrated in your day trips in many possible ways:

Day Program Options:

1. Culture Tour Wieskirche: Pilgrimage Churches in South Bavaria

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From the Hotel am Badersee the tour starts first to Ettal where we visit the Ettal Abbey. The impressive Benedictine monastery was founded in 1330, with the baroque style Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Church at its heart. The abbey owns a brewery and a distillery. There is a monastery shop for tourists and, optionally, a cheese production site next to the abbey.

Our next stop is the Wieskirche that we now take time to admire. For the lunch break visitors can find a few nice restaurants next to the church. Then the culture tour proceeds further to Steingaden. Here you would discover a monastery church with massive limestone towers. The construction of the church in Wies is associated with the Steingaden Abbey, historians see the Welfenmünster Church in Steingaden as the 'open book for art history', as the building combines elements from different architectural styles, including romanticism, gothics, barocco, rococo and modern art. If the time permits, you can easily reach Steingaden on foot - a light hiking trail through a moor landscape connects both sites. The trail starts behind the restaurant just opposite the Wieskirche. 

The final stop is the pilgrimage church in Hohenpeißenberg. There are many reasons why this small locality is worth a visit: beside the church dating back to the 17th century, here you would discover the world's oldest observatory founded by the Bavarian Prince-Elector Maximilian Joseph III. In addition, the site offers a tremendous view of the Alps, in fine weather up to 200 km! The best location to enjoy the view is the restaurant terrace on the hill top, during a coffee break or a dinner. On the way back we take the highway E95 that brings us to Grainau in no time.

2. Wieskirche on Foot: Exploring the King Ludwig Trail or the 'Brettlweg'

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A visit to the Wieskirche can be combined with longer or shorter hikes in the region, this is a great way to discover the local landscapes. The easiest trail is the Brettlweg between Wies and Steingaden, it connects nature and culture along its 9,6 km.

If you are interested to discover more of the Pfaffenwinkel region with its numerous history, culture and landscape highlights, try out the King Ludwig Trail (König-Ludwig-Fernwanderweg). You can consider two routes. The first is the 20 km trail section from Rottenbuch to Trauchgau, the Wieskirche is located approximately in the middle of the trail. You would need 5 to 6 hours for the hike. Another option is the trail section from the Wieskirche to Steingaden and further to Buching, here you would need to walk 22 km in approx. 6.5 hours. Afterwards you can take a bus to get to the startpoint.

You can also reduce the route to match your needs, e.g. end the first route at the Wieskirche or start at the Wieskirche and finish in Trauchgau or just in Prem. There is a bus stop in each locality that you can use for the way back. The trails are signposted with a blue K with a crown.

3. Wieskirche by Bike: Bike Tours Around the Wieskirche

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Another exciting option is exploring the Wieskirche and its surroundings by bike. Multiple tours are possible. Try out the 25.6 km / 2 hrs round route from Altenau train station. If you are not coming by train, you can still park your car in the 'Parkplatz Dorfweiher Altenau' parking lot. Charges apply.

Another 45 km long bike trail goes from Schongau over Peiting, Rottenbuch, Wildsteig and Wieskirche further to Steingaden. Arrival by train is possible as well.

There is also a round trip with 42.2 km / 3 hrs starting in Oberammergau. The village is connected to the rail net as well. Optionally you can include the Ettal Abbey on this tour by making a small detour. Alternatively, you can park your car in Ettal and start from here, Ettal has no rail connection.

The Church of Wies

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The construction of the Wieskirche has to do with the Steingaden Abbey and the figure of the 'Scourged Saviour of Wies'. The dilapidated wooden figure is associated with the 'tears miracle' event on 14 June, 1738. Until that day the figure was nothing else than 'poor artistic work' performed by the two norbertine monks from the Steingaden Abbey, Pater Magnus Straub and Frater Lucas Schwaiger, who built the figure in 1730 from the remains of other old figures they collected in the monastery. At the beginning of its poor existence the figure was carried during Good Friday processions in 1732-1734 but, as an ugly one, already in 1735 it was moved first to the costume storehouse of the monastery theatre and then to the attic. Only Maria Lory, a believing woman from Wies, seemed not to mind the ugly look of the figure, so in 1738 she got it for private use and brought it to her house. The wonder occurred a few months later, as during her evening prayer Maria discovered some drops of fluid on the face of the figure that she identified as 'tears'. It was the start of a new cult and a pilgrimage movement, that doesn't stop up to these days.

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Photo: www.wieskirche.de

Already in 1740 the number of pilgrims was so high that the abbey decided to build a small chapel for the figure. However, pilgrimage volumes were growing further and three years later the then-abbot Hyazinth Gassner sent Dominikus Zimmermann, at that time the city architect of Landsberg, an order for the construction of a pilgrimage church in the Wies. The construction started in 1745 and in 1749 the Scourged Saviour was carried to the new premises after the choir was ready. The building was completed in 1754 and equipped with an organ in 1757.

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Already in 1809/10, just 55 years after completion, the downfall of the Wieskirche was predetermined, as the church was to be auctioned off and demolished as part of the secularisation campaign. This only could be avoided due to a long struggle of Fronreiten Municipality and its farmers to preserve the church. Bavaria has to be grateful to these people today - who could think at that time that the Wieskirche would go on the UNESCO Culture Heritage List in 1983 and establish itself as one of the UNESCO Culture Heritage Sites in Bavaria?

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This shows again that coincidence plays an important role in history. Could the monks that created the wooden figure expect that it would make its way from such a blot to an internationally famous art masterpiece? And probably it was the gratitude of the 'Scourged Saviour' to Maria Lory, that she didn't mind his ugliness and only saw the beautiful, that the wonder was revealed to her. Anyway, this is a cool story.

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Visitors to the church are impressed by the artistic splendour and exquisite design in rococo style. Yes, at that time catholic churches and monasteries in Bavaria did not spare costs or labor to produce real masterpieces and attract visitors from all over the world - just like today. The most famous artists of those times were the Zimmermann Brothers, Dominikus and Johann Baptist by name, who came from the small village of Gaispoint in Weilheim Schongau County. Their talent for decorating with plaster, marble and frescos became famous far beyond their village - as far as France, Poland or Russia. They were Bavaria's top export in the 18th century.

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Take your time to enjoy the artistic excellence from Zimmermann Brothers and other great artists in quiet during your visit.

TIPS & INFOS:

  • You can easily reach the Wieskirche from Garmisch-Partenkirchen by bus. Bus 9606 departs from Garmisch-Partenkirchen Station directly and takes you directly to the Wieskirche (Travel time: approx. 1 hr 20 min). Please mind that some buses do not stop at the Wieskirche! Alternatively you can change to Bus 9651 at 'Echelsbacher Brücke' in Rottenbuch that will take you to the Wieskirche. (Travel time: approx. 1 hr 50 min).
  • While traveling by car you can park next to the church (parking fees apply).
  • The Wieskirche is extremely popular, its opening times may differ. Check the latest infos and updates here before you start.
  • There are restaurants next to the Wieskirche and in Steingaden. 'Gasthof Schweiger' in the Wies offers traditional kitchen and a great choice of desserts. The historical guest house was founded by Maria Lory's family and is definitely worth a visit.
  • If you plan to integrate your visit with a hike (like hiking the King Ludwig Trail), check the bus departure plan before you go. Buses may operate on individual basis.