The city of Altöting is traditionally known as the “heart of Bavaria.”  And the heart of Altöting is the Gnadenkapelle (Chapel of Grace), which year after year is visited by thousands of pilgrims from around the world who come to pray.  Today, September 11, Pope Benedict XVI joined the ranks of those who come to venerate the “Black Virgin.”

Some time ago, then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “I had the fortune of being born close to Altötting.  Thus the pilgrimages I made with my parents and siblings to this shrine are among my most early and beautiful memories.”

A 3 year-old child who drowned, and another who was trampled, both miraculously came back to life after their parents prayed to God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother at the location of the shrine in 1489 and 1490.  The events marked the beginning of the history of pilgrimages to the holy site.

Located in the Diocese of Passau, the history of Altötting dates back to the 8th century, when on July 10, 748, a nobleman named Wilhelm sponsored the founding of the Monastery of Mondsee.  He inscribed on one of the stones, “actum Autingas,” “given at Ötting,” from which the place derived its name.

The chapel there today was built in the middle of the 8th century, and the hearts of many Bavarian kings and princes are preserved there.  For this reason the place is called “the heart of Bavaria.”

During Easter the traditional youth pilgrimage takes place, when some seven thousand young people from the Diocese of Passau arrive at the Shrine after a journey of 90 kilometers on foot.

Benedict XVI and the Shrine of Altötting

In 1934 the memories of the canonization of Brother Konrad of Parzham in this city were burned into the heart of Joseph Ratzinger. Years later he would say: “This humble saint is a great sign for our times, which touches me interiorly all the more, the more I live united to him.”

Pope Benedict XVI has visited the Shrine throughout his life.  In 1989 he presided at its inauguration and in 1999 he came to give a special discourse on the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Marian Congregation for men.  He visited the Shrine again in 2001 and in January of 2005.

After being elected Pope on April 24, 2005, he thanked the mayor of Altötting, Herbert Hofbauer, who sent him a replica of the Black Virgin, and called the Shrine “the heart of Bavaria and one of the hearts of Europe.”