A charming town in Bavaria - Altötting, located about 1 hour road from Munich, houses the most important German Marian sanctuary and welcomes about a million pilgrims a year. In the heart of the city, on Kapellplatz, there is a small late Gothic church. However, don't let the size of the building fool you - despite its modest size, the Chapel of Grace is Bavaria's national sanctuary dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
This place is important both historically, witnessing important events in the history of the region and the country, and religiously, as it is the site of many healings that have reportedly taken place here over the centuries.
The octagonal Chapel of the Black Madonna in Altötting, which dates back to 680, when St. Rupert baptized the first Christian prince of Bavaria in this place, is considered the oldest Marian sanctuary in Germany. The heart of the miraculous chapel is a small room where a miraculous figure of the Black Madonna made of linden wood, dating back to 1330, is placed in a golden altar.
In the 17th century, King Maximilian of Bavaria consecrated himself and his country to the Virgin of Altötting, writing a letter to her in his own blood (this letter is still found in the base of the tabernacle below in the chapel). Since then, the hearts of Bavarian kings, including Emperor Charles VII, were buried in the chapel, which were to serve as a kind of royal honor guard.
Many votive offerings that have been placed in the sanctuary over the centuries are displayed in the porch surrounding the church. Over two thousand votive plaques are located at the entrance to the chapel, on the ceiling, on the walls of the cloisters, and in the Chapel of Grace itself. It's hard to find an inch of free space for more of these illustrated miracle stories.
Over the centuries, the figure and the entire chapel have become blackened by candle soot. The faithful apparently greatly appreciated this mysterious darkness, because in 1630 they painted the interior walls and ceiling of the chapel black. Now everyone who crosses the threshold of this unique, small, windowless holy room "immerses" as if into the dark, protective womb of the Heavenly Mother.
In 1980, Altötting was visited by Pope John Paul II, accompanied by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was born in a nearby town. In 2006, Ratzinger, as newly elected Pope Benedict XVI, returned to the shrine and donated his episcopal ring, which now forms part of the scepter held by the Blessed Virgin.
For centuries, people have been coming here with their worries, sufferings and troubles. On Marian holidays, candlelight processions take place in the square next to the Chapel of Graces, regardless of the weather.
It's a wonderful travel destination regardless of the season as the heart of Bavaria constantly beats here.