The Romantic Road reaches one of its highlights at STEINGADEN, which stands in rolling countryside 21km northeast of Füssen in the placid rural district known as the Pfaffenwinkel, or Clerics’ Corner – so called because of its numerous churches and monasteries. In most respects it’s a fairly modest country town, clustering around the Welfenmünster, a handsome former abbey church that preserves its Romanesque exterior appearance and cloister but is otherwise flamboyantly Baroque.
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Fine though the Welfenmünster is, this is not the church that brings visitors from across the world to Steingaden. They come instead to see the Wieskirche, or meadow church, in the tiny hamlet of Wies 5km southeast of town. In 1738 farmer’s wife Maria Lory spotted tears coming from the eyes of an abandoned figure of a scourged Christ; the site became a place of pilgrimage, and two years later a tiny chapel was built to accommodate the flow of pilgrims. Sheer visitor numbers soon overwhelmed it, however, and so the present church was begun in 1745 to the designs of Dominikus Zimmermann. It was consecrated in 1754.
Though the exterior is handsome enough, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming grace and beauty of the interior – a vision of a Rococo heaven in pastel shades, with ceiling frescoes by Dominikus’s elder brother Johann Baptist, whose work also graces the monastery of Kloster Andechs and the Wittelsbachs’ summer palace at Nymphenburg. The church is generally regarded as one of the pinnacles of the Rococo style, and it was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1983. The church is busy with tour groups in summer, but it’s a magical (if freezing cold) experience to visit in midwinter, when you might just have the place to yourself. In the summer months it is also the venue for evening concerts.