Marienwallfahrtsort Staufen—At One in Nature’s Solitude

June 15, 2008 Updated: July 11, 2008
Chapel of Saint Meinrad, with lodging for pilgrims. (Inka Ehrbar/The Epoch Times)
Chapel of Saint Meinrad, with lodging for pilgrims. (Inka Ehrbar/The Epoch Times)

Marienwallfahrtsort Staufen is a religious pilgrimage site

A bird twitters as the rising sun against the lovely blue sky greets us in the early morning. My dog Tila and I hike from Rapperswil, a town located on the upper end of Lake Zurich, Switzerland. We are on our way to visit the famed monastery village, Einsiedeln.

It's only a few steps from the train station to the 841-meter long boardwalk that takes one to the other side of the lake. One passes the Heilighuesli ("holy house"), a bridge chapel that was built in the 1600s. To the left are the Glarner Alps, and to the right, Ufenau Island, with its Romanesque church dedicated to Saint Peter and Paul. After a steep ascent through what is known as Hollow Alley, we come to the observation tavern, Luegeten. We are rewarded with a breathtaking view of Lake Zurich. One can sit and rest at the Luegeten, while dining on a mouthwatering meal.

Saint Meinrad, the Monk

Tila and I continue to climb the mountain for a short while. The fruit trees are in full bloom. One cannot get enough of the beauty that surrounds us, and let us not forget the beautiful beech trees. They are covered with this unique hue of light green, which can only be seen during the month of May. The sun winks through the canopy of leaves, giving a lovely radiance to the little stream that laps downwards beside us. It resembles molten diamonds pouring down to the valley. Orange-yellow buttercups and primroses, violets and lady's smocks adorn the path, all the way to the Etzelpasshoehe (Etzel elevation).

This is the place where the monk, Saint Meinrad, lived for seven years in the 9th century, before he moved to what is known today as Einsiedeln. He had arrived from Lake Constance, where he had lived in the Benedictine monastery on Reichenau Island, having made the commitment to live as a hermit for the rest of his life. Legend says that he brought with him a statue of Mother Mary, which was believed to produce miracles. Abbess Hildegard from Zurich had presented him with the statue. Epoch Times Photo

It only took a few minutes for us to arrive at the Chapel of Saint Meinrad, with its stately Pilgrim Inn, built in the mid-1800s. This place beckons one to stay awhile. My mind is captivated with one image— the expansive, authentic and unforgettable scenery. This landscape is so wide open, and so clear, that on first glance, one feels immediately like jumping up and down, out of sheer joy. Gazing into the distance, one views the snow-covered mountain range of Switzerland's interior, as far as Rigi (a popular recreation area in the heart of Switzerland). Ones inner eye can imagine Lake Zurich, although it is not visible at the moment, since a haze formed from the movement of air and wind obscures it. I quietly sit down at one of the wooden tables positioned under the large trees outside the inn, and delight in the pleasure of being here. Tila, who knows how to savor a moment of rest, rolls up contentedly at my feet to take a nap. The congenial waiters seem to consider me a welcome guest, and after having enjoyed a scrumptious meal, it is easy to move on.

It doesn't take long for me to arrive at the renowned doctor Paracelsus' birthplace, Den Berg. When descending the mountain towards Tueffelsbruegg (Devil's Bridge), which crosses the Reuss River in central Switzerland, I pass a blooming hawthorn hedge, flowers and sites with a variety of herbs. Finally, I arrive at Paracelsus' birthplace. He was born in 1493, and spent several of his childhood years here. I can imagine that this constant landscape, which gives one a far-reaching perspective, awakened in him many talents, including mysticism, philosophy of nature, astrology, alchemy and the desire to become a doctor.

Moving on, Tila and I reach a road junction marked with a most beautiful crucifix. Now we cross the Tueffelsbruegg of Lake Sihl and climb the mountain once again. Within a few minutes the footpath moves away from the country road and weaves uphill, past meadows. On and off, we pass a few trees and cross a flat, upland moor. The brown expanse is covered with thousands of buttercups, which cross the moor, like yellow stripes. On the right side, in the distance one can see the Zurichsee. and on the left side is Lake Sihl. Lake Sihl appears to flow proudly past the pyramid-like mountains—just as legend describes. Next comes another crossroad, with yet another beautiful crucifix. A sign directs us toward the asphalt street that leads to the Galgenchappeli (Gallows Chapel). Up until 1799, the high court was located here. Those who had received the death sentence received the rite of the last sacrament in this chapel.

Today, only a sign marks the former sight of the chapel, which was torn down in the 19th century. We continue hiking toward the right, away from Lake Sihl, in the direction of the town of Einsiedeln. Looking out from the Gangulfchapel, one gets a sense of the vastness of the monastery compound of Einsiedeln. It is one of the oldest settlements in this area.

At one time, Einsiedlen was known as a Marienwallfahrtsort (a pilgrimage site dedicated to Mother Mary), which promoted a surge in tourism, along with Saint Meinrad's residency in the forest.

According to legend, two bandits murdered Saint Meinrad. They had stolen the treasures left at the shrine by pilgrims. Two ravens, raised by Saint Meinrad, followed the murderers as they fled, all the way to Zurich. The crows, through their incriminating cawing, succeeded in convincing the judges of the guilt of the two men. Einsiedlen's crest commemorates the two ravens. In the decades following Saint Meinrad's death, the hermitage was home to a number of hermits. One such hermit was Eberhard, who was the former provost of Strassburg. He built a monastery and a church in the location of the hermitage.

In 948 AD, the church was dedicated to Mother Mary and the martyr, Mauritius, (also known as Saint Maurice, famed leader of the legion of Thebes.) Legends claim that Jesus and angels have appeared at the location. In the 12th century, the site was dedicated to Mother Mary. Einsiedeln's population reached 1,300 during the 15th century, becoming one of the most renowned pilgrim sites in the occident dedicated to Mother Mary. Pilgrims from throughout Europe passed through Einsiedeln, to Rome, Jerusalem or through Saint James of Compostella, an important medieval pilgrimage route). To this day, many pilgrims still come to Einsiedeln, although by bus or car.

Before we embarked on the journey home, I tried the "Schafsboecke" ("ram"), a special treat reserved for pilgrims. The bread is made from flour, water, herbs and honey.