The complex is not extensive, nor does it boast any magnificent architecture but it is a compact group of buildings that cleverly exploits its hilltop position. This makes Mariahilf an aesthetically pleasing place of pilgrimage which most pilgrims approach via the pilgrimage steps. This “heavenly ladder” (321 steps) is a covered staircase leading from the Passau Innstadt to the top of the hill. Pilgrims kneel and pray at each step, approaching the place of grace in a particularly memorable manner.
The design of the church interior is extremely simple but nevertheless rich in perspective and suited to the pilgrimage. The east bay of three-bay nave is interrupted by low transept arms. Behind this is the semi-circular choir, divided up by pilasters and barrel vaults. The west bay is occupied by a two-bay gallery. The walls of the nave consist of broad Tuscan pilasters connected by an entablature strip which also surrounds the choir.
The church interior with its integration into the complex as a whole and its richly perspectived ground plan concentrates on the golden high altar (1719; modified 1862, 1910 and 2005) with the miraculous image.
The figures at the side of the altar are St. Sebastian and St. Rochus. The most striking decorative item after the miraculous image is the so-called Emperor’s Lamp, donated by Emperor Leopold I. to mark his wedding in Passau in 1676. It is the work of the Augsburg master Lukas Lang.
In the transept arms are the two side chapels, late Rococo constructions from 1774. The paintings signed by Bergler depict the Visitation of Our Lady and the Lamentation of Christ. In the nave there are Baroque statues of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Conrad von Parzham, St. Anthony and St. John Nepomuk.
Reminders of the great days of the pilgrimage are the votive gifts from the wars against the Turks – Turkish weapons that fell into the hands of the imperial army during the liberation of Vienna in 1683.
But the many ex-voto images and the church treasure consisting of donations made over the centuries are evidence of the trust of the faithful who for four centuries have come to Mariahilf to ask the touching image of the Mother of God with the Child Jesus to intervene on their behalf.
Also noteworthy is the decoration of the old sacristy, now the pilgrimage museum, with a late Mannerist cupboard and the silver treasure: the Lamberg-chalice, the monstrance of 1628, the silver candelabrum, the wine and water vessel, the thurifer.
Today the veneration of “Mariahilf” is a bond that unites large parts of Europe, a bond that was created in the past and has already shown its great strength in the course of history. The present age could benefit greatly by returning to this tradition of faith.
The community of pilgrimage priests housed in the adjoining monastery complex has consisted since 2002 of members of the Polish Pauline Fathers’ Order. This community points the way forward for the one Catholic faith in the many different countries of Europe.