Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

An American in Germany / Part # 11 / Altötting

GAPP Exchange Journal 2012
Tour of Altötting Church Square

Touring the Square of Altötting
I had walked through downtown Altötting with Andy and Wendy a few times to take in the overall view, pick up some historical tidbits, and most importantly for Wendy and I to get our daily fix of ice cream.  It was mandatory.  However, today following our morning homeroom period, we would be getting the official tour from KKG English and French teacher Irene Kerndl, who has a long history of involvement with the GAPP program over the past two decades.  It would be our first group activity outside of school, our maiden school field trip adventure together on the other side of the world.  Wendy and I acted as teamsters coaxing our valuable herd of students to market.  It was a nerve racking fifteen minute journey through the foreign terrain but we safely arrived and didn't even lose one stray!  There's nothing like the feeling of bringing in a herd...  Irene led us down to the center of Altötting to the famous church square known as the Kapellplatz Church Plaza, where a multitude of Roman Catholic structures reside.  There are several large churches in and around the plaza but the small Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of Grace), which is known by many names, is the central focus for the 1.3 million people who visit the plaza annually.  The tiny village first became well known on the map in 1489 when a woman carried her son to the Chapel of Grace after he had drown in a nearby stream.  According to legend, she laid her unresponsive son on the high altar under a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary when he suddenly came back to life a few minutes later, without any sign of injury.  The event was dubbed a miracle as the news quickly spread throughout the region, attracting others to the site.  The rest is history...

Lady of Altötting / Chapel of Grace
The location was first deemed a holy site when Saint Rupert baptized the first Christian Duke of Bavaria circa 680 AD, who then ordered a chapel to be built on the location to mark the occasion.  An effort was made to convert the surrounding population to Christianity over their traditional Pagan ways and a newly constructed church containing images of Christianity would help the cause.  A statue of the Virgin Mary was placed on the high altar within the octagon shaped apse.  The first church on the site was destroyed by fire at the hands of Hungarian invaders near the end of the first century, along with the original Madonna shrine.  The chapel was reconstructed circa 1000 and the current Madonna statue within the altar is the same one carved from wood belonging to a nearby linden tree around 1330.  The statue depicts an image of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus off to one side.  Due to the deep color of the wood and continued darkening from prolonged exposure to candle soot, the statue became known as the Black Madonna.  Both figures within the sculpture are adorned with fine embroidered black and gold fabric robes.  Following the miracle in 1439 of the three year old boy coming back to life after drowning, another similar miracle involving a child occurred again.  A six year old boy was returning with his father on a loaded farm wagon from the fields outside of town.  He suddenly fell from the wagon and was consequently crushed by the wagon's heavy wheels.  The father, remembering the previous miracle, took the boy to the Chapel of Grace and placed his body before the statue of the Black Madonna and prayed for his survival.  Although the boy was so badly crushed and was given no hope to live, legend says he awoke the next morning with no signs of injury and was completely healed.  Do you believe in miracles?

Kapellplatz Church Plaza Fountain
Over time the tiny chapel became a popular destination for pilgrims, making it the most visited religious shrine in Bavaria.  Due to the chapel's history associated with saving children, it has become a place of thanksgiving for families who have experienced their own miracles.  The entire exterior of the chapel is surrounded by a covered walkway known as the gallery, where thousands of paintings and image artifacts, left as gifts to the Black Madonna, are on display.  People whose own children have overcome serious health risks pay tribute to the shrine by leaving a visual representation as a testament to their faith in God's power to heal.  There are so many votive tablets (miracle plaques) in existence that many are said to be stored away and rotated on display several times a year.  Some painted tablets appeared to have been extremely old, possibly dating back several centuries.  It was a powerful and humbling sight to behold.  Several large wooden crosses were propped up against the wall, which are carried by some visitors as they circle the chapel and recite their silent prayers.  During the Easter holiday the traditional children's pilgrimage takes place when thousands of young people from the far reaches of the Diocese of Passau journey to the sacred chapel on foot, some from as far away as fifty miles.  Multiple other pilgrimages take place throughout the year but are most numerous during the summer months.  One morning while we were eating breakfast at Andy's house, we saw a group of about twenty pilgrims through the kitchen window making their way toward Altötting along the pedestrian pathway.  It was interesting to see the procession of faithful pass just outside.  I wondered how far they had walked; where were they from?

 Linden Tree Planted By Pope John Paul II
The perimeter of Our Lady of Altötting / Chapel of Grace was accented by linden trees as a tribute to the wood used to create the Black Madonna shrine so long ago.  In fact, the linden tree is considered somewhat sacred in Bavaria with connection to religious images and even Germanic mythology.  Pope John Paul II visited Altötting in 1980 and delivered an evening Mass on the Chapel Square to a crowd estimated to exceed 10,000 faithful.  He even took the time to plant a sacred linden tree known as the Pope-Linde at the far end of the square close to the entrance of the monastery of Altötting's Saint Konrad.  The famous chapel is known by many different names but the reason it is sometimes called the Heart of Bavaria may be its most interesting title.  Bavarian tradition since the 17th century has required the heart of every deceased King of Bavaria to be laid to rest within a silver urn within the Chapel of Grace.  The tradition was started by King Maximilian of Bavaria when he composed a hand written letter to the Black Madonna in his own blood, consecrating his soul and country to the Lady of Altötting.  The Blood Consecration Letter is on display within the alter of the chapel at the base of the Black Madonna shrine.  The hearts serve as royal guards to the Virgin Mary.  The silver urns contain only the heart of each monarch, their other remains are laid to rest elsewhere.  The unusual tradition ceased after the death of King Ludwig II, Bavaria's last true king.

 Collegiate Church of Saint Philipp and Jacob
The Kapellplatz Church Plaza contains many other structures of the Roman Catholic Church, which were built to help accommodate the large number of worshipers that flock to visit the famous Chapel of Grace.  The largest building on the square is the Collegiate Church of Saint Philipp and Jacob, which was actually the fourth religious structure to occupy the space.  The current building was constructed in 1499 but preserved some of the historical elements of the previous structure's architecture that date back to the 13th Century.  The church is easily recognizable from a distance due to the tall spires of matching towers that rise over 150 feet into the sky above.  I used them many times as a visible reference point to help guide me back to the center of town when I was off exploring the surrounding side streets on my own.  As you enter the large church doorway into the narthex you passed by a very tall clock resembling an enormous grandfather clock with one very distinct difference. The top of the square clock face was adorned with a standing skeletal figure representing the likeness of the Grim Reaper.  He was even holding a little iconic grain sickle in his little hands.  The clock was crafted during the dark time associated with the Black Death and 30 Years War that ravaged the area, circa during the first half of the 17th Century.  The unexpected characteristic of the clock was further emphasized when the little Grim Reaper suddenly moved periodically turning from one side to another.  Legend says every time he moved to one side someone died and when he later made a move to the other side of the clock, someone else was born.  It was kind of like a primitive population clock but must have only been covering a limited region since keeping track of the world population would have worn the little guy out!

 Life and Death Population Clock
The large interior sanctuary was very beautiful with a late Gothic architectural design.  Another interesting element of the church were the four canonized bishops that eternally rest along the side walls within the main sanctuary.  Burial within the nave is considered a great honor reserved for a select few, a privilege rarely granted.  The closer the body is buried in proximity to the high altar, the closer one is considered to God.  There were two memorials located on each side of the sanctuary containing the remains of the honored deceased.  The interesting characteristic of each sarcophagus was the side of the memorial facing the sanctuary consisted of glass, giving the public an open unobstructed view of the body at rest.  The body was richly dressed in ornately embroidered robes of gold and white silk, further adorned with jewels.  The dressing from head to foot concealed a majority of the body itself, with the exception of the skeletal face, which was turned to face the pews of the sanctuary.  Since this is not a widely practiced custom in America, it was a little shocking for most members of our group to see, who were taken by surprise by the spectacle.   

 Exposed Bishop's Burial Sarcophagus
Turning back toward the narthex, the rear vestibule displayed a large memorial to all the local people who had died during World War II.  The memorial had the image of the Virgin Mary centrally mounted on the wall flanked by the names of all the victims etched in capital letters within the stone.  The fallen did not appear to be of military origin but civilian casualties of the conflict.  Several other people of honor were buried in underground crypts just beyond the sanctuary, another resting place of honor.  An altar room contained a steep staircase one floor down to the underground space of the crypt.  A famous local general of the 30 Years War named Johann Tserclaes, who was known as the Duke of Tilly, was honorably laid to rest in one of the tombs.  The stone coffin containing General Tilley's remains had a square section cut out of the stone sarcophagus above where his head would be located.  The cutout was replaced by a thick panel of glass to reveal his skeletal face to onlooking visitors.   Next we toured the cloister walkway connected to the sanctuary that told the story of the crucifixion through a series of large wood carved dioramas colorfully painted.  Near the end of the walkway, we came to a plain wooden display case mounted to the wall off to one side.  The case contained many small black and white portrait sized photographs, each labeled with a name and date of death.  The simplistic memorial commemorated the fallen military personnel from the local area who died during World War II.  Most of the faces behind the glass were of young teenaged faces shrouded in military dress to look more mature.  Both World War II memorials equally permeated a feeling of sorrow and sadness.

Stiftspfarrkirche World War II Memorial
Our tour of the church plaza was now complete with the exception of one very important ceremonious meeting scheduled with the town mayor known as the Burgermeister of Altötting.  First, we fortunately had some time to spare, so we gave our kids a little free time to explore the area, while Wendy, Irene, and I took refuge from the sun in a small side cafe on the plaza.  It was time for some ice cream... like I said before... It was mandatory!  Irene ordered a cappuccino, a drink I just couldn't get excited about... it was so tiny?  Within the hour we rendezvoused with our students and made our way to our next appointment.  We headed to the town hall known as the Rathaus where the mayor's office was located, right on the plaza.  Our group was welcomed inside and taken upstairs to what appeared to be the board meeting room.  We all took our seats around the "U" shaped wooden table and accompanying chairs that filled the bulk of the room.  Burgermeister Herbert Hofauer made his entrance and then delivered his official welcoming address of the city he was so proud to lead.  Our KKG teacher guide Irene served as translator for the mayor's speech to our students, which gave a brief history of the region and town center.  He was a friendly man who had taken time out of his busy day to welcome us as ambassador guests of the United States to the historical city of Altötting.  A few goodwill wishes and gifts were exchanged, followed by a group portrait outside with the Chapel of Grace as a backdrop.

 Warwick Ambassadors to the World
When I first arrived on the fringe of the openness of Altötting's Church Square, I assumed one of the larger churches connected to the plaza was the famous focal point of Altötting.  It was refreshing to discover that the magnet pulling people from around the world to this holy sacred location was none other than a small chapel that held less than 75 people at a time.  Compared to the grand scale of the Regensburg Dom, a cathedral I had just previously visited, this tiny chapel with many names was just as grand.  What it lacked in physical size and shape, it was more than compensated by the countless people who walk countless miles as a testament of their faith to the Black Madonna.  When Irene first paraded our group past the entrance of the Chapel of Grace, few of us could penetrate the threshold for an interior view due to the Catholic Mass that was taking place.  I made it a point to find the time before my departure from Bavaria to return to the chapel for an interior visit to the altar that healed children through miracles.  I finally got that chance on my last full day in town. Although I am not a member of the Catholic Church, I wanted to say a prayer of thanks for my own miracle before the Black Madonna.  My daughter Katelyn survived a cancerous brain tumor when she was in first grade.  It was an extremely difficult road to travel but several years later, she became a cancer survivor and for that, I am eternally grateful...

  The Miracle Plaques of the Chapel of Grace
(Photo Credit / Altötting Pilgrimage and Tourist Office) 
Please stayed tuned for the next installment of our adventure!

  Kapellplatz Church Plaza / Overhead View
(Photo Credit / Altötting Pilgrimage and Tourist Office) 

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