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Mary Help of Christians Church

Mary Help of Christians, the older church in Seis, is to be found at the north-western end of the village square. It was consecrated by Brixen Auxiliary Bishop Jesse Perkhofer (1604–1681) on 6 September 1657 and dedicated in honour of Mary Help of Christians and St Catherine of Alexandria.
This church was thus one of the first in South Tyrol to have Mary Help of Christians as its patron saint. It soon became a popular pilgrimage site, particularly for the inhabitants of Völs: during severe droughts, they conducted prayer processions to the Mother of God in Seis.

The church is a simple building erected in the style of the Early Baroque. The year ‘1648’, chiselled into the door’s lintel, also indicates this. A small graveyard surrounds the church on three sides. The church’s exterior wall features painted Stations of the Cross, which can be dated stylistically to the 18th c. Between the church’s simple portal and the lunette windows, there is also an older wall painting with an image of the icon of Mary Help of Christians as well as a sundial.

A Gothic tower rises past the church’s gable roof. Above its belfry storey, it has wide eaves resting on a cornice, with large lion-like spouts projecting out from its corners. Above the eaves, four decorative gables with windows form the transition to the pyramidal spire, whose upper portion is eight-sided.

The interior has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with three lunettes projecting in from each side. The first pair of lunettes are located above the organ loft. The sanctuary ends in a straight line and is separated from the rest of the church by a chancel arch.


The sanctuary also features a barrel vault with lunettes to the sides. Its ceiling paintings as well as those of the nave were created in 1849 by the painter Johann Burgauner: the Holy Trinity with the crown for Mary above the organ loft, the Mother of God Ascending to Heaven in the nave, the painted aureole of angels adorning the ‘Hole of the Holy Spirit’ in the ceiling and the adoring angels depicted in the sanctuary.

The marbleised Baroque high altar is from the period around 1700. In the centre of its backing, there is a splendidly framed copy of Lucas Cranach’s icon of Mary Help of Christians from Innsbruck Cathedral. Two statues of angels seem to hold up its frame. The Dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above it and God the Father can be seen in the crowning. The Trinity is thus depicted simultaneously along the altarpiece’s central axis. The reliefs with the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were presumably added at the request of Dean Alois Bamhackl. Portals for the offertory procession have been placed alongside the altar’s double columns, which support finely crafted sculptures of John the Baptist (left) and John the Evangelist (right). Both have been attributed to the workshop of Josef Konrad Wieser (1693– 1760).

The side altar is dedicated to the church’s second patron saint, Catherine of Alexandria,
and is from 1669. Its coating in black and gold is typical of the
early Baroque. The altar painting depicts St Catherine’s Mystical Marriage with Jesus. She kneels before the Apparition of Mary with the Christ Child in the clouds and accepts the engagement ring. A putto holds one of the instruments of her martyrdom: the broken wheel. The sword with which she was beheaded lies on the ground before her. The little painting in the crowning
presents an image of the Annunciation.

The two guardians of the shrine, who stand beneath hook-like arches, are St Florian and St Sebastian. The inscription identifies the ecclesiastical donor, who had himself immortalised in the altar’s predella, together with his family’s coat of arms: ‘Joannes Maniger, Master of Brothers’. The Baroque pulpit is positioned opposite this side altar. Its sides are decorated with small figures of the Four Evangelists. The decoration of the sounding board is noteworthy. It contains a sculpture of the Archangel Michael with a flaming sword and horn. The valance of the horn bears the inscription: ‘Hear the Word of the Lord.’ This alludes to both the sermon and the Last Judgement. The latter is depicted in the form of a cloud crowned by the Eye of God. Two arms stretch out of the cloud and hold a palm branch and a Scale of Souls. The good deeds weigh heavily, but visitors with good eyes will be able to recognise a little devil in the higher scale, who tries in vain to lend more weight to the sins of the departed. This church’s abundant furnishings also include a carved confessional, Stations of the Cross with frames bearing symbols of the Passion of Christ and two carved figures of the parents of Mary – Joachim and Anne – rising above reliquary bases.

Quelle: Die Kirchen und Kapellen der Pfarreien Kastelruth und Seis am Schlern. Kunstverlag Peda Gregor e.K., Passau. Peda-Kirchenführer 2021

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