Austria: Christmas 2005 – Pilgrimage Chapel

The 2005 Advent stamp shows the "Maria Heimsuchung" (The Visitation) pilgrimage chapel in a watercolour by Dr. Reinhold Stecher, the former Bishop of Innsbruck.

Stecher is not only appreciated in his home province, but is also known and popular far beyond the borders of Tyrol as an author and illustrator of his books. His works stand out for their cheerfulness and their humour.

Bishop Stecher is also a talented painter, and in his expressive landscape watercolours, he plays with light as if on an organ, using it to reflect some of the message of goodwill that he announced to the world in his function as priest and bishop. The proceeds from his paintings all go to charity.

Dr. Stecher was born in Innsbruck in 1921 and entered the seminary after his school-leaving examination in 1939. Following a protest pilgrimage, he was arrested by the Gestapo for two months in 1941, and then drafted into the German army. He continued his studies after the war, being ordained in 1947, and then working as a religion teacher. In 1981, he was anointed bishop and was head of the Innsbruck diocese until 1997. Today, Dr. Stecher lives as a minister of the Church in Rum near Innsbruck. Bishop Stecher himself participated in the pilgrimages to the small "Maria Heimsuchung" chapel. Since the end of the 17th century, this chapel has been a place of refuge for students in exam difficulties. According to legend, a pious student prayed to an image of the Madonna here, and his petition was apparently heard. The Madonna was soon given the name "Maria, Refuge of Students", and in 1774 a chapel was build in honour of the Mother of God. As early as 1786, it was closed by Emperor Josef II, and the miraculous image was moved to the parish church in Hotting. The chapel was restored and redesigned shortly after the death of Emperor Josef II. The rococo stucco and the delightful ceiling fresco by Franz Allmutter date from this time, as does the delicate baroque altar. The Madonna is between two serpent columns, and shows Mary with a baroque cloak and crown holding a crowned Baby Jesus in her arms. The chapel's delightful location at the foot of the Nordkette attracts hikers and pilgrims throughout the year, particularly from Innsbruck. Hundreds of devout believers attend the annual midnight mass.

In this stamp, it is Bishop Stecher's intention to show that, in the midst of all the superficial and commercialised festive activities, the secret of Christmas brings a unique light into the world each year.

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