Heavens above

Remote pilgrimage churches are a common sight along the Alpe-Adria Trail. 

Written by Rudolf Abraham


Church of St Vincent of Saragossa, Stage 1

Church of St Vincent of Saragossa Grossglockner Alpe Adria Trail Austria by © Franz Gerdl, Kaernten Werbung  

This church was built in the late 14th century on the site of a smaller, earlier church. Pilgrimages to the church – to see the vial of ‘holy blood’ once carried by the 10th century Danish knight Briccius – are recorded as far back as 1273. The interior contains a 16th-century High Gothic altar, a crypt containing the tomb of Briccius, and a book clad in wrought iron containing the names of climbers who have lost their lives on the Grossglockner.

Church of St George, Stage 8

Church of St George Danielsberg Alpe Adria Trail by Rudolf Abraham© Rudolf Abraham 

This dates from the 12th century, and is built on the highest point of Danielsberg. The frescoes on the apse probably date from the 16th century, and include St Barbara, patron saint of miners – mineworkers having formed a significant proportion of the congregation in past centuries (the mine owners would mostly have attended church in Obervellach). There are bits and pieces of the Roman temple that once stood on Danielsberg incorporated into the church – an inscription stone from ad175 beside the entrance, a relief sculpture near the altar.

St Catherine’s Church, Stage 16

St Catherine's Church Alpe Adria Trail Slovenia by Bad Klirchenheim Tourism© Bad Kleinkirchelm Tourism 

St Catherine’s Church (Kirche St Kathrein), which dates from 1492, was built above thermal springs, the original medieval tapping of which can still be seen in the crypt (now renovated and modified to function as a baptistry). The Gothic winged altar has carved wooden figures of St Catherine, St Barbara and St Vincent, and the single bell in the belfry dates from 1496.

Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Stage 25

Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Dreznica Slovenia Alpe Adria Trail by Slowenien Tourismus © Slovenia Tourist Board Archive  

Drežnica’s most prominent landmark is this church, the 56m-high spire of which is visible for miles. Built in 1911 on the site of an earlier medieval church, it miraculously survived the ravages of World War I despite lying right on the front line of the Isonzo Front. The bell tower was completed in 1986.

Planica Chapel, Stage 26

Planica Chapel Slovenia Alpe Adria Trail by Slovenia Tourist Board Archive© Slovenia Tourist Board Archive  

This small chapel was built during World War I, in memory of the Italian fallen on this section of the Isonzo Front, at around 1,200m on the slopes of Planica, near the former location of an Italian Army supply camp. The chapel has a cylindrical roof and a semi-circular chancel, and an inscription on the lintel, Consolatrix Afflictorum, meaning ‘Comforter of the Afflicted’ which is taken from a litany to the Virgin Mary. Not much is known about the chapel, other than it was supposedly an Italian captain, a certain Celestino Bes, who ordered it to be built (and after whom the chapel is also sometimes referred to, as the Bes Chapel). In any case it’s a poignant memorial in a lonely spot, which I found shrouded by veils of cloud on my visit, the surrounding landscape carpeted with primroses, the paths alive with the slow awkward gait of salamanders.

Church of Santa Maria, Stage 36

Regardless of whether you intend to hike up Monte Carso, walk up to the spectacularly situated church of Santa Maria in Siaris. The church is first mentioned in the 14th century and was enlarged in the 17th century (there’s also an unlikely legend that Charlemagne built the church and had intended to be buried here). There’s a good view of the Rosandra waterfall from its terrace.

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