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The Basilica of the Virgin just outside the village of Brezje may not look much different from any large baroque-style church in Slovenia, but a series of miraculous healings have made it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Slovenia. Foto: BoBo

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A Pilgrimage Under the Alps

Slovenia Revealed
17. March 2017 ob 06:15
Ljubljana - MMC RTV SLO

The Basilica of the Virgin just outside the village of Brezje may not look much different from any large baroque-style church in Slovenia, but a series of miraculous healings have made it one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Slovenia.

The story began in 1814, when a painter from Kranj named Leopold Layer, who had been imprisoned by Napoleon’s forces for counterfeiting money, swore to himself that he would decorate his hometown church, then known as St. Vitus, as a gift to God when he was released. He made good on his promise and created several paintings for the church, among them a portrayal of the Virgin and Child.

Almost half a century later, in 1863, several locals reported that the prayers they had said in front of the painting had come true and cured them of disease. One woman was surprised to regain strength in her previously paralyzed leg, anther found relief from crippling knee pain, while still another claimed that she was cured on a growth on her head. As word spread of the miraculous healings, Brezje quickly became a major pilgrimage destination in Slovenia and beyond.

The village was suddenly too small for the thousands of visitors who visited it each year, and in 1900 a new neo-baroque church was built. In the interwar period, the famed Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik designed the park in front of the church.

After Slovenia was invaded and occupied in World War II, Layer’s famed Virgin and Child painting was moved to Croatia and the Ljubljana Cathedral, where it survived the war unscathed. It was returned to Brezje in 1947.

Today, hundreds of thousands still flock to the church each year. The church contains numerous crutches and votive offering left by those who have come here in search of a cure; some leave feeling much better. In 1996, Pope John Paul II was among those who made the pilgrimage to what is probably Slovenia’s most famous church.

The country has changed much since the 19th century, but thousands are still drawn to a place that gives them hope for good health and a better tomorrow.

Jaka Bartolj