Altötting is one of Bavaria’s most famous shrines; every year, almost a million pilgrims come, very numerous between spring and autumn, many of whom are young people from all walks of life.
The Sanctuary of Altötting is called “Herz Bayerns”, meaning the “heart of Bavaria”, and there is no doubt that it constitutes its driving force, the true engine of the religiosity of the German Catholicism. This octagonal sanctuary was originally a chapel, built around the year 700, which legend has it that housed the baptismal font used by Bishop Rupertus von Salzburg to baptize the first Bavarian Duke into the Catholic faith. Around 1330, a statue representing the “Madonna and Child” arrived in the city and was immediately placed in this chapel.
Within the sanctuary, in front of the statue of the Madonna, can be found kept in precious silver urns the hearts of all the kings of Bavaria including that of Ludwig II († 1886) and other important exponents of the Wittelsbach family. The Gnadenkapelle is open every day of the year from 5.30am to 8.30pm.
In 1489 there were then two apparitions of Our Lady. According to the local tradition, in that year a three-year-old boy who had drowned in the river that passes through it, returned to life through the intercession of the Virgin of Altötting. Mary’s maternal help to a family in difficulty was the beginning of an endless procession of pilgrims who, for 500 years, have been pouring into that sanctuary to venerate the Mother of Jesus, to confide to her their joys and pains, difficulties and suffering. After that first sign of grace, the Virgin of Altötting continued to pour out, over the centuries, numerous other visible and invisible graces to many faithful who saw their requests answered in that sacred place, reinvigorated their faith, and found relief in their trials.
The first pilgrimage to Altötting began precisely in that year, following the stories of two spectacular miraculous healings. Since then the flow of pilgrims has never stopped. Together with Lourdes, Fatima, Czestochowa and Loreto, Altötting is one of the five so-called “Sanctuaries of Europe”.
Pope Benedict XVI, born in nearby Marktl and deeply linked to Altötting by numerous official and private visits, has himself called this pilgrimage city “the heart of Bavaria and one of the hearts of Europe”. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI during his pastoral journey also touched the city of Altötting, to which, two years later, he conferred the high honor of the “Golden Rose”.
In 1670 the Altar where the statue of the ‘Black Madonna’ is still kept, made of lime wood, was enriched with precious silver decorations, while more than two thousand votive offerings are visible both inside the Sanctuary and in the external portico. The “pole” of attraction of the Sanctuary is precisely the “Black Madonna”, a statue sculpted around 1300 by an artist, perhaps originally from the Upper Rhine. The statue, made of lime wood, is so called because it blackened with the time, especially for candle smoke. Even today many pilgrims from all over Europe flock to the “Black Madonna” which is exhibited in the ancient baptismal chapel. After the beatification  and the canonization  of the Capuchin friar Konrad von Parzham, gatekeeper of the Convent of Altötting, next to the Chapel of the Madonna, there is also another destination for pilgrimages: the tomb of St. Conrad of Parzham, the saint friar gatekeeper canonized around 75 years ago, and reposed in the Capuchin Church.
Here from May to October solemn Masses are held and, every Saturday evening, large processions are organized. There is no shortage of faithful who meditate on the Passion of Jesus after carrying a cross on their shoulders. The Gnadenkapelle, which is located in the middle of the Kapellplatz and where the venerated wooden statue of the ‘Black Madonna’ is located, can be seen as if covered by ex voto. Youth ministry in the Diocese of Passau has a long tradition. The biggest annual event is the Youth Pilgrimage. On average, about six thousand boys and girls travel the 90 km in two days which divide Passau from Altötting.
The period of pilgrimages begins at Easter with an imposing liturgy from Palm Sunday to Easter Monday and high-level concerts such as the Oratory of the Passion in the basilica or the songs of the Passion in the “Panorama”. Other special events are: the beginning of the Marian month (May 1st), the three days of Pentecost with the arrival on foot of numerous groups of pilgrims, the great Corpus Christi procession and the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin on the 15th August with a suggestive torchlight procession the previous evening. Even the Advent and Christmas period give the town a unique atmosphere, with the market of the “Infant Jesus”, the traditional Alpine Advent songs, a great Christmas concert, the magnificent nativity scene and the whole city center festively decorated.