If there is a perfect example of Bavarian rococo architecture, the Wieskirche Church is probably it.
Set among verdant, rolling Alpine foothills, surrounded by Bavarian farms and accessible by narrow country roads, the Wieskirche also comes pretty close to being the perfect example of a true hidden gem. The tiny town of Wies would be hard to miss—you’ve heard the cliché “Don’t blink!” Even the nearby towns of Steingaden and Wildsteig are small. And as for the “gem” part of that adage? Once I heard the church was a rococo work, I knew it would sparkle.
In Your Bucket Because…
- You want to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
- You’re looking for another worthwhile stop along Germany’s Romantic Road.
- A great stop for those who love European history and religious sites.
A large public parking lot confirmed that I had reached a popular tourist attraction. I headed up the paved walkway toward a pretty but unspectacular church exterior and prepared myself for extravagance.
I’d been to rococo churches before. I knew this was the builder’s MO: Save the fancy stuff for indoors.
Inside glittered a masterpiece of religious art, an 18th-century jewel box of multi-colored marble, gold leaf, ceiling frescoes and statuary. Silver candlesticks gleamed near the altar and tiny white, gold-winged cherubs flitted across the walls and the ceiling.
This sculpt-‘til-you-drop style of architecture was the trademark of Dominikus Zimmermann, an architect and stuccoist who, along with his brother Johann Baptist Zimmermann, made a name for himself in Bavaria.
History of a Masterpiece
The Wieskirche (formally known as the Pilgrimage Church of the Scourged Saviour) was constructed between 1745 and 1754. One of its key elements was the little statue of the suffering Christ that sits within the front altarpiece. It was said that real tears appeared on the statue’s face in 1738 and so, when this building was completed about 20 years later, the statue and the Wieskirche’s extraordinary religious art drew penitents from across Europe.
Many pilgrims to the Wieskirche claimed miraculous healing after visiting and praying to the Scourged Saviour. Some pilgrims still claim extraordinary healing as a result of a pilgrimage to the Wieskirche. A collection of religious votives near the church entrance symbolize the prayers of these faithful visitors.
But it was Zimmermann’s extraordinary artistry that caused UNESCO to declare the Wieskirche a World Heritage Site in 1983. That and the fact that the original art and architecture on display in this little country church still remains intact. In post-World War II Germany, just 90 minutes from Munich, that may be one of the Wieskirche’s most spectacular miracles.