The Werthenstein Monastery
4 January 2023
In the village of Werthenstein (canton of Lucerne) near the river Emme, the bishop of Constance consecrated the first pilgrimage chapel in 1520. The church building was marked by the transition from late Gothic to Renaissance.
Niklaus Ratzenhofer (1600-1649) described the origins of the pilgrimage site in his book “Kurtze Erzehlung dess Ursprungs und Wunderzeichen des Gotteshauses unser lieben Frawen zu Werdenstein” (1618).
Around 1500, a Dutch golddigger set up camp for the night near the Emme. He heard “Ein gar herrliches, lieblichs und süesses Gesang und er sah einen schönen Glanz von vilen hellen Liechetern (A wonderful, lovely and sweet song and he saw a beautiful glow of many bright lights)”. He then hung an image of Our Lady (Mary).
In the following years, more and more stories of healings circulated, and the influx of pilgrims increased rapidly. The Lucerne government then decided to build a chapel, resulting in the chapel of 1520.
The famous statue of Mary, a Pietà carved out of wood, came to the pilgrimage site in 1528. It originally stood in the Frybach chapel near Huttwil (canton of Bern). After the canton of Bern switched to the other faith in 1528 during the Reformation, the statue was brought to Werthenstein. As a result, the pilgrimage experienced a great revival.
The present Baroque church was consecrated in 1616. The bishop of Constance consecrated the new cross altar and the two chapels at the main entrance in 1621. The altar was a gift from the French King Louis XIII (1601-1643). The brothers Christoph and Hans Ludwig Pfyffer donated the two chapels.
The gift from the French King underlined the excellent relationship between the (Catholic) Cantons of the Eidgenossenschaft based on the Eternal Peace of 1516 and the many Swiss mercenaries in French service.
The source of the later “Gnadenbrünnelis” was discovered in 1634. The spring is on the path from the wooden bridge over the Emme to the church. Many stories circulated about the miraculous cures through the spring’s healing water, and the pilgrimage site became increasingly crowded.
The Franciscans moved into the newly built monastery building in 1636. From the 17th to the early 18th century, the pilgrimage experienced its heyday, with up to 80,000 pilgrims a year.
At the end of the 18th century, however, the flow of pilgrims declined rapidly. The canton of Lucerne finally abolished the Werthenstein monastery in 1838. Much of the furnishings were auctioned off, and the rooms were used as an institution for the deaf and dumb.
Today, the monastery is a parish. The halls and rooms are available for events, and there is overnight accommodation for pilgrims.
The complex is surrounded by waterfalls (the Sulzigbach waterfall, the Stäubligbach waterfall and the Bielbach waterfall), the monastery garden and beautiful hiking trails.
(Source and further Information: Werthenstein Monastery)