St. Vincent Pilgrimage Church

Heiligenblut am Grosglockner, Austria | C.1491

Photo Credit: Johannes Höhn

It all started with an avalanche & a flask of Holy Blood. At the foot of Großglockner – the tallest mountain in Austria – the majestic St. Vincent Pilgrimage Church presides over the valley. But its epic location in the central eastern Alps is no match for its supremely epic origin story.

According to legend, a Danish knight named Briccius obtained a flask of Holy Blood in 914 AD from the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. On his way home across the Alps, an avalanche buried Briccius who, facing death, hid the flask inside an open wound in his calf. When the snow settled, local peasants found his corpse at a place where three ears of wheat broke through the snow. These ears of wheat are today depicted in the town’s coat of arms.

A small church was built on this location and the first documented pilgrimage to the “Heiligen Bluet” (the holy blood) took place in 1273. Little did the community know what massive undertaking awaited them.

Around 1400, the community decided to upgrade their relatively small church into a much grander monument, marking the beginning of an almost century-long construction period. The new pilgrimage church was consecrated on November 1st, 1491, and has continued to accommodate the ever growing number of pilgrims and visitors ever since.

Inside, a late-Gothic high winged altarpiece is accompanied by the crypt of St. Briccius, and of course the “Iron Book” containing the names of those who have perished on Großglockner. The legend of Briccious is visually narrated in a series of paintings inside the church, and the Holy Blood is today kept in a locked box called a “sacrament house” where it remains safe from any threat of future avalanche.

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