The Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers – Are you good at praying?

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„Are you good at praying?” Brother Paul asks us, with a disconcerting gingerly smile. “Ummm, not really” we stutter. “If you want to pray I could open the confession chapel for you.” “Actually, we just want to have a look at the work of art” we explain. We have seen photos of a huge blue disk, the “Blue Sun” by a local artist in the exhibition room of the monastery of Vierzehnheiligen (Church of the 14 Holy Helpers). “I am sorry; in that case I can’t open the chapel for you.” Just at that point our friend Monika comes to our help: “Pray a little? Why not?,” she says innocently. We are all let into the small square room at the back of a functional building at the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. It has white walls and is sparsely furnished with a few chairs and frosted glass screens in front of the windows. The huge blue circle and a modern brass cross with a punched Corpus Christi dominate the room.

From the last row Brother Paul watches us praying. „Tell me when you are finished – and try to pray,“ he advises when he leaves after nearly ten minutes. Again this gingerly smile, which we guess should be benign, but to us it seems as if he is making fun of us.

A famous pilgrimage site

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In stark contrast to the confession chapel, the main church of the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers is anything but modern and sparsely furnished. It is one of the marvels of the flamboyant German Rococo.

In September 1445 a young local shepherd saw a crying baby sitting in the fields near the small hamlet of Staffelstein not far from the River Main. But when he bent down to pick it up, it suddenly vanished. Next time the shepherd passed by, the baby reappeared. It had a red cross on his chest and smiled. Fourteen other children were happily sitting around it. They told the flabbergasted shepherd that they were the Fourteen Holy Helpers who would help anyone in trouble and that they would like to have a church erected on this very spot so that they could reside here.

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The miraculous healings that were soon reported began to attract pilgrims. In the 18th century, finally, a proper pilgrimage basilica was to be built. An enthusiastic abbot engaged Balthasar Neumann, the famous Baroque architect, who came up with a plan for a big pompous pilgrimage cathedral – the Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. Not everyone in charge fancied the costs and the design, however, and so a different master builder was secretly called in to build a reduced version. A year later, when the church was already partly-finished, Neumann came to see the progress. All wrong! The place where the Holy Helpers had appeared was now somewhere near the entrance, instead of under the crossing. So Neumann improvised with some oval balustrades that emphasised exactly that spot, and the church was officially consecrated in 1772. Today Vierzehnheiligen (The Basilica of the Fourteen Holy Helpers) is still a famous pilgrimage site for Catholics from all over Germany

A famous climbing area

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Initially we came to Upper Franconia for rock climbing as it is the most famous climbing area in Germany. We had even brought our bicycles, planning to move leisurely between places such as Pottenstein, Streitberg , and Plankenfels. As the weather was too bad for climbing during the whole week we spent in Bayreuth, we went sightseeing. We marvelled at the Baroque theatre which Countess Wilhelmine, a sister of Frederick the Great, had built for her own cultural edification and where she directed her own operas. Excursions to Bamberg and Würzburg even added to our fill of putti, churches, and proselytising. We have now started our summer in the Alps and are looking forward to more hiking and climbing.

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