According to a legend, the temple of the ancient Slavic goddess Živa, once stood in the place of the present Baroque church on the island of Lake Bled. The temple disappeared during battles between the followers of the pagan religion and Christians, who destroyed the altar and built a church.
On the Bled island, archaeologists have discovered traces of prehistoric (11th to 8th centuries B.C.) and Slavic (9th to 10th century) settlements. In the early Middle Ages a pre-Christian, probably Old Slavic cult area stood at the location of the present day church. 124 graves with skeletons from the 9th to the 11th century were found. The foundations of a pre-Romanesque chapel which was built during the process of Christianisation, also date from approximately the same period - this is probably the only discovered example of a cult building from those times on Slovenian territory. According to written sources, the first masonry church on the island, a three-nave Romanesque basilica, was consecrated by the Aquilean patriarch Pellegrino in 1142.
In the 15th century, it was rebuilt in the Gothic style: a new presbytery, a freestanding bell tower and the main altar were built. The renovated single-nave church was consecrated in 1465 by the first bishop of Ljubljana, count Žiga Lamberg.
In 1509 it was damaged by an earthquake to such an extent that it required thorough renovation, and this was carried out in the Baroque style. Only the frescoes in the presbytery and a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, which probably adorned the main altar, were preserved from the previous Gothic church.
The present form of the church dates from the 17th century when it was renovated after another earthquake. The main altar with its rich gold-plated carving, dates from 1747. On the central altarpiece the Virgin Mary is shown seated, with the donor of the Bled estate, Henry II, and his wife Kunigunda at her side. The side altars, consecrated to St. Sebastian, St. Magdalena and St. Anna, were made at the end of the 17th century.
The bell tower, which was built in the 15th century, has been renovated several times due to damage by two earthquakes, and in 1688 it was struck by lightning. The present tower is 54 m high and has three bells, which were made by Samassa and Franchi, bell makers from Ljubljana. Like the church, the other buildings, the walls and the monumental staircase (99 stairs) preserved their image from the 17th century.
Of special interest is the 'wishing bell' from 1534 in the upper roof beam above the church nave, by F. Patavina from Padova. According to the legend, a young widow Poliksena once lived at the Bled Castle, who had a bell casted for the chapel on the island in memory of her husband. During the transport of the bell, a terrible storm struck the boat and sank it together with the crew and the bell, which to this day is said to ring from the depths of the lake. After the widow died, the Pope consecrated a new bell and sent it to the Bled Island. It is said that whoever rings this bell and thereby gives honour to Virgin Mary gets his wish come true.References:
Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.
The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.
In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.
Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.
About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.
Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.
A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.