The diocesan town of Passau has long been a centre of religious life in Bavaria and Austria. In 1611, Prince-Bishop Archduke Leopold of Austria brought to Passau, his town of residence, a painting of the Mother of God tenderly embraced by the Child Jesus. The painting was the work of Lucas Cranach the Elder, a leading German painter, and was probably produced after 1537.
This outstanding painting was greatly admired by the Passau Cathedral Dean Baron Marquard von Schwendi. He had two copies of the painting made, one of which he hung in a wooden chapel in his garden at the foot of what is today known as Mariahilf hill. After having several visions of Our Lady, he decided in 1622 to re-locate the chapel with the painting to the top of the hill and to open the chapel to all the faithful. Interest was so great and the crowds of pilgrims so large that in 1624 he had to start building a church, which was completed in 1627. The architect was Passau master Francesco Garbanino, who was one of the group of artists from Ticino who brought Baroque art to Bavaria at the time. The new church rapidly became a highly popular place of pilgrimage. From 1631 onwards, it came under the aegis of the Capucin monks from the nearby hospice and from the monastery in the Passau Innstadt. They made Mariahilf into a major centre of pilgrimage for Central and South-East Europe, especially after the deliverance of Vienna from the Turks in 1683, seen by many as a response to appeals to Our Lady of the Succours.
The cult of Mariahilf (Our Lady of Mercy) is an important feature of the cult of Our Lady that flourished particularly in the Baroque period. Hundreds of affiliated pilgrimages sprung up, especially in Amberg/Upper Palatinate, Innsbruck (where the original by Lucas Cranach is housed), Vienna and Munich.
Although the cry of Mariahilf” – the literal meaning of which is “Mary – help!” was very widely used in the period of defensive wars against the Turks and although Marcus of Aviano, the Capucin popular preacher of the period, placed his struggle against the Turks under Our Lady’s protection, the devotion to the Mother of God was always primarily an expression of fundamental problems of human existence. This is attested by the innumerable accounts of miracles, by ex-voto images and by songs such as those written by Prokop of Templin, the poet of Our Lady and a member of the Capucin order. It explains why people from all social classes and regions flocked to Mariahilf until about a century and a half ago, when the enlightment period and the subsequent secularisation reduced and then practically put an end to the pilgrimage.
After about three decades, the spirit of Catholic Reform in Bavaria revived the pilgrimage from about 1830 onwards, this time as a pilgrimage confined to the diocese of Passau and the surrounding Austrian region. Regular processions and pilgrimages to Mariahilf still take place today.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.