A pilgrimage to Maria Kirchental
Many ways lead to God – one of them over the mountains
Going on a pilgrimage is in the nature of us humans. Pack your rucksack, put on sturdy shoes and simply march off. Set forth and be on the way; leave everyday life and the baggage of life at the side of the road; concentrate on the present and the future; step by step, find solutions to the questions you have set yourself. One of the best pilgrimage paths in the Alps runs through the Salzburger Saalachtal. On the Way of St. James, you walk from Unken via Lofer and St. Martin up to the picturesque Maria Kirchental, to the 'Pinzgauer Cathedral' and the 'Haus der Besinnung‘ (the 'House of Reflection').
There are many pilgrims' paths in the Salzburger Saalachtal but none is so popular as the Way of St. James. The destination is the faraway Santiago de Compostela in Spain and the 'Camino' passes along the Saalach via Unken to Lofer and then further on into Tirol. A special variation of the path, states that you should follow the river further along in Lofer and walk from St. Martin up to Maria Kirchental. This is a detour which really pays off because in this truly magical place, not only a wonderful place of power awaits but also the 'Pinzgauer Cathedral' and the 'House of Reflection'.
Pilgrimage on the Way of St. James
Way of St. James pilgrims enter the Salzburger Saalachtal in Unken, where they occupy their quarters for the night. On the next day, they set off with renewed energy down to the Saalach, where they follow the Josephsalle in a westerly direction. Passing the sports ground and the Hotel Schütterbad, the village of Reith comes into sight after a short while. Partly on forestry roads, partly on asphalted side roads, the way continues via Au to the Antonius Chapel. On a beautiful forest track, the pilgrims come first to Bairau and finally over the Teufelssteg into the centre of Lofer.
After refreshments, the Way of St. James follows the old village road and a footpath from the locksmith's shop (Schlosserei) to the Nepomuk Chapel. After this, pilgrims walk along the left bank of the Loferbach further west and in the direction of Pass Strub, where the border to Tyrol is crossed. This first stage ends in Waidring after a little more than 20 km and around 6 hours walking time.
Magical Maria Kirchental
Pilgrims who would like to linger in the Salzburger Saalachtal for a couple more hours to get to know the area better, should definitely take the detour to Maria Kirchental and visit this place of pilgrimage at 880 metres. In this case, the alternative path follows the Saalach to the neighbouring community of St. Martin, and then over the meadow to the Hotel Bad Hochmoos. After ca. 1.5 hours (from Lofer) you will reach Maria Kirchental on the Tiroler Steig, a well-maintained forest path.
Alongside Maria Plain, not far from the state capital of Salzburg, this high valley is one of the most visited pilgrimage churches in Salzburgerland. For 300 years, people have been coming on pilgrimage here from Tyrol, Salzburg and even Bavaria to visit the 'mountain crystal among pilgrimage churches', as the former Bishop Eder so aptly described the place. This baroque jewel, consecrated in 1701, was designed by the legendary Johannes Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The double towered, two-storey east facade and the vast interior space are particularly impressive. The church also holds the most famous and important collection of votive pictures in Austria. Located next to the church, the pilgrim-friendly Kirchentalwirt provides refreshment and accommodation for tired hikers. Annemarie and Claudia Herbst, mother and daughter, take particular care to uphold a down-to-earth tavern culture.
Peaceful hours in the House of Reflection
Maria Kirchental is one of the healing spaces of the archdiocese of Salzburg, along with eight other places. The Herz-Jesu-Missionare (Sacred Heart Missionaries), along with the Missionarinnen Christi (Missionaries of Christ) chose this particular place of power to run their House of Reflection. They say, “Discovering the uniqueness of each person and giving them space is of great concern to us, as well as the ever new search for a modern spirituality and a sustainable lifestyle.“ At the moment three sisters and two priests live permanently in the high valley, take care of the spiritual welfare of the pilgrims and provide spiritual guidance in the form of days of reflection, retreats, bible weeks and meditations.
With this in mind: “Buen Camino“ to all pilgrims and we wish you a good time in the Salzburger Saalachtal.