Unterkirche Hallenberg

Hallenberg (51.108746 | 8.624826)

Feminine elemental power

Pilgrimage church of the Assumption of Mary from the 12th century with the image of 'Our Lady of Merklinghausen'.

Hallenberg, only about 4500 inhabitants, but with city rights, nestled on the eastern foothills of the Rothaargebirge. In the course of its eventful history, it has always been a bone of contention between princes and bishops, and today it is still a border town to Hessen. I am looking for a birthplace: that of the town itself. Surprisingly, I don't find it in the magnificent 13th century parish church that dominates the center of Hallenberg. But down below, at the southeastern exit of the town, right next to the busy federal highway.

Lächende Mutter Gottes mit dem Jesuskind in der Unterkirche Hallenberg

There stands the much smaller Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The people of Hallenberg call it "the Unterkirche." As I enter and close the low wooden door behind me, the noise of the cars falls silent in one fell swoop. Even the sun seems to stay outside. A pleasant coolness and dim light surround me. The windows are tiny. Slowly my eyes get used to it. Earth-colored frescoes become visible on the walls and in the vaulted ceiling; they could only be partially restored. They are the essential decoration of the Unterkirche. It appears homely, conveying a feeling of security, not like other sacred buildings that are supposed to teach the faithful reverence, but also intimidate them: Here you are, mortal human, unworthy and small! Under the low ceiling and between the massive round arches I feel protected. The church really has something maternal about it.

Kirche Hallenberg Wandmalerei

Its oldest part was built more than 1000 years ago. Baroque pomp is completely absent. My gaze is magically drawn to the statue of Mary behind the altar. She wears a purple cloak and a diamond-studded cross. Protection and fullness. She sits, only 63 inches high, yet dominates the entire room. "Our Lady of Merklinghausen" has a different aura than I am used to from Madonnas. Most look neutral or serious. This one smiles. The divine child on her arm also looks quietly amused. The statue has been worshipped for hundreds of years, hundreds of pilgrims are attracted by her smile every year in August. They ask for comfort, protection, forgiveness. Cures have been handed down, though not proven. The church has a firm place in the life of the town, and it is one of the attractions on guided tours. My guide Edeltraud Müller, who knows the area well, says that the people of Hallenberg are particularly generous when donations are called for the Unterkirche.

During a walk-through, when the aim was to sense the spiritual qualities of the church, the participants had, as the method would have it, given free rein to their thoughts. Some also had associations with the church of female power and childbearing, of uterus and womb. I asked Ms. Müller if she was not alienated by such an association - a church as a womb? She smiles and thinks for a while. Then she says: "It's true: this is a birthplace. Where the church stands, there was once the village of Merklinghausen. It fell into desolation, that is, it was abandoned. All that remained of it was the church, and it became the origin of Hallenberg.

Author: Michael Gleich

Under the low ceiling and between the massive round arches I feel protected. The church really has something maternal about it.

Michael Gleich

The best way to reach the Unterkirche Hallenberg is from:

Start hiking parking lot Heinrich-Hugo-Platz in Hallenberg.

For further information please contact the Tourist Information Winterberg: Tel: 029 81 - 92 50 0, E-Mail: hallenberg@winterberg.de

H5 - Hallenberg Grenzweg
Difficulty: Medium | Distance: 14.6km | Duration: 4:50h | Ascent: 355m | Descent: 355m
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