Bavarian Rococo Joy: The Pilgrimage Church of Wies

Larger Than Life: Art that inspires us through the ages
February 21, 2021 Updated: February 22, 2021

On June 14, 1738, in Wies, Bavaria, part of the Holy Roman Empire, a wooden figure of Christ appeared to shed tears. Inspired by the incredulous event, pilgrims from across Europe began to visit the tiny chapel that was built in 1740 to house the figure. So many pilgrims visited the chapel that the nearby Steingaden Abbey decided to build a church to accommodate them. 

Constructed between 1745 and 1754, the Wieskirche, or the Pilgrimage Church of Wies, is considered a Rococo masterpiece. The interior features astounding frescos with trompe l’oeil, a painting technique that renders objects realistically so that they appear to be three-dimensional. It also features the stuccowork of the Wessobrunner School of stucco artists. 

The Wessobrunn stucco style originated from the Benedictine abbey in Wessobrunn, Bavaria, around 24 miles north of the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. In the 17th century, the abbey was the epicenter of Europe’s stuccowork commissions, with orders coming from France, Poland, Hungary, and Russia. 

Two of the most important Wessobrunn stuccoworkers were the Zimmerman brothers, Dominikus and Johann Baptist. The Pilgrimage Church that Dominikus built and stuccoed and Johann Baptist frescoed is considered a masterpiece of the Wessobrunn style.

Dominikus built his home close to his masterpiece. And inside the church, he painted a pious portrait of himself kneeling in prayer before the wooden Christ. He signed the painting “D.Z. Ex voto A. 1757,” which roughly translates to “an offering, according to my vow.”

In the foothills of the Alps lies the oval Pilgrimage Church of Wies. (HaSe/CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Sublime Bavarian Rococo designs permeate the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. (San Hoyano/Shutterstock)
Some of the joyful, opulent stuccowork, gilded and painted in pastels. (Joaquin Ossorio Castillo/Shutterstock)
Angels abound in the frescoes and on the stuccowork. (3523studio/Shutterstock)
Playful angels keep watch over all who enter the Pilgrimage Church. (Angelina Dimitrova/Shutterstock)
Sunlight streams through the Pilgrimage Church windows, further illuminating the divine art and architecture. (Spaceport9/Shutterstock)
Shells, leaves, and flowers are some of the themes of Rococo ornamentation. (Angelina Dimitrova/Shutterstock)
Johann Zimmermann painted the Pilgrimage Church frescoes, often using a technique called trompe l’oeil, whereby objects are realistically rendered to appear three-dimensional. (Joaquin Ossorio Castillo/Shutterstock)
Elegantly gilded capitals in the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. (San Hoyano/Shutterstock)
The light and airy interior of the church offers a gracious place for contemplation and prayer. (Pabkov/Shutterstock)
Intricately carved church pews await the many pilgrims who come to admire the church at Wies. (Pabkov/Shutterstock)
The upper gallery in the Pilgrimage Church of Wies. (Gregorini Demetrio/CC-BY-SA 3.0)