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New enthusiasm for old paths

Then and now: Pilgrimage on the Via Sacra from Vienna to Mariazell

Going on pilgrimage has seldom been as popular as it is today. As Austria's oldest pilgrimage trail, the Via Sacra has been hiked for over 800 years already. More and more people are embarking on the Via Sacra and the Vienna Pilgrimage Trail in a search for meaning, step by step.

It all began in the Middle Ages when the first pilgrims set out and brought life to the towns and villages along the Via Sacra. Believers, aristocrats, and emperors would walk from Vienna through the Vienna Woods and the Mostviertel region to Mariazell. Then as now, the trail leads through fascinating natural landscapes and mountain regions that are among the most beautiful in Austria. The 120 kilometre long walking tour takes around five days and leads past stops such as Heiligenkreuz, Klein-Mariazell, Lilienfeld, and Annaberg. In the middle of the 20th century, the Via Sacra was joined by an equal companion, the Vienna Pilgrimage Trail. In five daily stages with a total of approximately 115 kilometres, it leads through often untouched forests and pastures and a stretch of the Viennese Alps all the way to Mariazell.

From "Mary in the cell" to Mariazell

Where once there only was a modest monk's cell with a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, today towers the famous Mariazell Basilica. From early on, people from all directions made pilgrimages to the power place in the Austrian province of Styria. While in the beginning, only a few scattered paths and roads led there, soon proper pilgrimage routes emerged—one of them being the Via Sacra. In the uncertain times of war in the 20th century, only few people dared to undertake the hike to Mariazell. Thus, after the two World Wars had finally ended, the enthusiasm was all the greater: The walking pilgrimage became popular once again and still is today. Travelling on foot is experiencing a revival, and more and more young people are discovering the fascination of pilgrimage.

Many good reasons for a pilgrimage

There are many reasons to set out on foot. When in past times, it was more the idea of religious devotion, penance or gratitude that motivated people to go on pilgrimage, today they have many different reasons: to find inner peace, to take some time off, to spend time in nature, to re-discover oneself, to express one's faith or spirituality, to heal, to draw new strength, to express gratitude or simply to explore one's own limitations by reducing oneself to the essentials.