Up high for the pilgrimage

Up high for the pilgrimage

With the superlatives it is such a thing. "Highest pilgrimage church in Europe", is written on the postcards. I guess that's not quite true. "At least somewhere in Switzerland there is a little church that must be higher up," says hut host Hansjorg Lunger. "But we just have a living pilgrimage tradition here."

A booklet states more modestly that the little church is the highest pilgrimage site in Tyrol and one of the highest in Europe. Lunger sits in front of the mountain hut Latzfonser Kreuz. For a good ten years he has been a hut warden on 2.305 meters. And the 45-year-old has been "Mesner," as the southern German word for sexton, at the Latzfonser Kreuz pilgrimage church a few meters below for just as long. "That one can do the sacristan is a prerequisite for the office of caretaker of the hut," he explains. For example, the sturdy man, one of his country's most successful mountain bikers in the 1990s, is now not only a member of the Italian national ski mountaineering team, but also an honorary church minister. The neo-Gothic church is older than the hut, indeed older than alpine tourism. Middle of the 18th century. At the end of the nineteenth century, mountain farmers built the first little church on this site, after pilgrims had already spent decades worshipping a legendary crucifix, the "black Lord God," there in the open air. The present church building with its small bell tower was built in the years before 1870. The church was an important part of everyday life for him and his family, says the mountain hut owner. And so Hansjorg Lunger, his wife Margaret and their daughters always make sure that candles are burning in the church and that there are fresh flowers at the altar. They clean the church and prepare the altar for the celebration of Mass.

Mail from the Vatican Pope Benedict XVI also acknowledged this last October. The head of the church spent his summer vacation in nearby Brixen. It was not enough to make a detour to the Latzfonser cross. Margarete Lunger recounts with amusement how, during the 15-day vacation, the rumor of a papal visit kept circulating – and numerous hikers therefore climbed up to the hut and waited there with beer and Kaiserschmarrn. In vain. But a few months later mail arrived from the Vatican. On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the hut warden, the Pope thanked him, whom through one of his translators the booklet about the Latzfonser cross and a description of the well-kept church had reached. "The Holy Father thanks you for the careful care of the little pilgrimage church, which, as was reported to him, is always kept worthy and decorated with fresh flowers," it says there. Now the letter with the Vatican letterhead, together with the Pope's photo and handwritten blessing, hangs in a dignified frame in the entrance to the hut.

Not "just any chapel The innkeeper is convinced: The Latzfonser Kreuz is not "just any chapel". Sunday after Sunday a priest celebrates mass up here. When the weather was fine, there were often more worshippers in the Church of the Holy Cross at the hut than down in the village, says Lunger with a smile. Even the older ones have to walk for hours up from the valley; some of them come every Sunday and make pilgrimages along Stations of the Cross. For the feast of the Amption in mid-August, even the brass band had to walk up: 60 men and their instruments. An indication of the faithfulness of the faithful: The owner of the mountain hut since 1954 is the Catholic parish down in the valley. During the season, which lasts from spring to the first weekends of October, hikers and worshippers come alike. On rainy days a few, on sunny Sundays, says Lunger, the hut is really buzzing after the mass celebration. Even in the mattress camp under the hut roof he then sets up tables for lunch. Whether hikers or pilgrims – their gaze occasionally falls on the inaudible Brenner highway deep down in the valley. The distance between the top and the bottom is not just a few kilometers as the crow flies, but worlds apart.

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