UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies

UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies
UNESCO World Heritage Site #220: Pilgrimage Church of Wies

From the World Heritage inscription:

The sanctuary of Wies, a pilgrimage church miraculously preserved in the beautiful setting of an Alpine valley, is a perfect masterpiece of Rococo art and a masterpiece of creative genius, as well as an exceptional testimony to a civilization that has disappeared.

The hamlet of Wies, near Steingaden in Bavaria, was the setting of a miracle in 1738: a simple wooden image of Christ mounted on a column, which was no longer venerated by the Premonstratensians, appeared to some of the faithful to be in tears. A wooden chapel constructed in the fields housed the miraculous statue for some time. However, pilgrims from Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and even Italy became so numerous that the Abbot of the Premonstratensians of Steingaden decided to construct a splendid sanctuary. Accordingly, work began in 1745 under the direction of the celebrated architect, Dominikus Zimmermann, who was to construct in this pastoral setting in the foothills of the Alps one of the most polished creations of Bavarian Rococo. The choir was consecrated in 1749 and the remainder of the church finished by 1754. That year Dominikus Zimmermann left the city of Landsberg where he lived to settle in Wies near his masterpiece, in a new house where he died in 1766.

The church, which is oval in plan, is preceded to the west by a semi-circular narthex. Inside, twin columns placed in front of the walls support the capriciously cut-out cornice and the wooden vaulting with its flattened profile; this defines a second interior volume where the light from the windows and the oculi is cleverly diffused both directly and indirectly. To the east, a long deep choir is surrounded by an upper and a lower gallery.

The Pilgrimage Church of Wies (aka Wieskirche in German) is a small church located in the village of Wies outside of Steingaden.

From the outside, the church is not impressive. It is just a normal country church like you could see in any village. Inside, it is like someone detonated a Baroque bomb. Color, ornaments and stylings cover every wall and ceiling.

The church is one of the smallest world heritage sites I have visited. Perhaps second only to the Rietveld Schröder House in the Netherlands. It will probably only take you 15-30 minutes to explore the church. Once you are inside and can see the artwork, that’s all there is.

During my short time at the church, there were two buses of tourists which came through. Wies is only a 15-20 minute drive from the popular destination of Neuschwanstein Castle. If you are going to vist Neuschwanstein it is worth it to take a few more minutes to visit Weis.