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Views 4112 at September – 21 – 2013
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When this Gothic pilgrimage church is illuminated at night, it shines out far across the lake from the peninsula that was an island until 1770. For many visitors it seems to be a venerable witness of an improbable beautiful fairy tale with a great history. Thousands of guests visit Maria Worth every year, to relive the history and culture of the Lake Wörthersee at first hand. As early as 763, the Bavarian Bishopric of Freising was granted land near to Innichen – now San Candodo – in the Val Pusteria from Duke Tassilo III. By accepting this gift, however, Freising also took it upon himself to convert the heathen Carantanians living in the east of these territories to Christianity. Around 830 or a few decades later, the Bishopric of Freising in Innichen founded, Maria Wörth, on the island in a large lake.
A Marian church was built in 875 in Maria Wörth, on the highest plateau of the island. Under Bishop Waldo, the relicts of St. Primus and Felician, martyred under the heathen emperors Diocletian and Maximian in 286 and 287, were brought from Rome to Maria Wörth, and ceremoniously buried in the crypt. As a result, the church soon acquired a well known reputation as a missionary centre on Lake Wörthersee, and it became a very important place of worship. The lake at this time did not have a proper name and was called “lacus S. Primi et Feliciani”. However, this name did not catch on and the name Werdersee, i.e. Island Lake, was retained.Bishop Abraham of Freising (957 – 993) spent a long time in Maria Wörth to escape the political confusions of this time. Although the Bishop kept clear of any political activity in the village, he had a considerable religious effect and, from his domicile on the island, founded a number of churches throughout the surroundings; the result was that the bishop appointed more priests to Maria Wörth. He also gave the mother church on Lake Wörthersee many articles of value.In the following years, the importance of Maria Wörth as a spiritual, economic and colonial centre in the heart of Carinthia grew considerably, with the result that Bishop Otto I of Freising, (son of Margrave Leopold the III, the holy one, and a fantastic historian) founded the second collegial monastery in Carinthia in Maria Wörth between 1146 and 1150.What had previously been the Marian church with the graves of the two Roman martyrs in Maria Wörth was now raised to the rank of a provost church.
In 1399, the monastery and parish churches on the island were destroyed by fire. Although the two buildings were completely rebuilt, work progressed very slowly. It was around 1420 that the small parish church was finally completed, now fitted with Gothic windows. Several decades later, the provost church, was rebuilt in Gothic style. Subsequently, this historic pilgrimage church was fitted with magnificent Baroque decor.During the century without an emperor, a number of aristocrats in Carinthia attempted to seize church assets as compensation. Thus the Burgrave of Hollenburg attacked the provost church on the island with his followers, knocking down the church doors and plundering the two houses of God.Under Emperor Joseph II, who during his monarchy reorganised the interests of the church, the island of Maria Wörth was linked to the mainland, so that today there is no need for a bridge to reach the magnificent spot of earth that houses one of the oldest churches in the province.