The Mariazell Basilica (also the Basilica Mariä Geburt or in English the Basilica of the Birth of the Virgin Mary)in Austria is, according to Pope Benedict XVI one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Europe.
Legends give the date of the founding of the town as December 21, 1157, but it is first documented in 1243.
Pilgrims were already making their way to the Marian sanctuary in the 12th century.
Larger numbers of pilgrims are documented beginning around 1330, when a secular court imposed a "Zellfahrt" ('Zell journey) as atonement for its criminals.
A Marian altar was dedicated there in 1266.
The Basilica of the Mariä Geburt dates from the fifteenth century
In 1907, the pilgrimage church was elevated to a basilica minor.
The Holy Father said that:
"Mariazell is much more than a 'place,'" [It also represents] "the living history of a pilgrimage of faith and prayer down the centuries."
Yet, he added: "It is not only the prayers and invocations of men that are present, but rather a real answer is also present.
"We feel that the answer exists, that we do not extend a hand toward something unknown, that God exists, and that, through his mother, he wants to remain particularly close to us.
The Pope recalled that the Virgin of Mariazell has received important titles throughout history, like "great mother" of Austria and of the Slavic towns, in this sanctuary visited by thousands of people during the centuries, until Mariazell was even considered the spiritual center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
However, he added, the Virgin shows us that greatness does not arise from the quality of being unattainable.
He explained that Mary's "greatness is evident precisely in the fact that she addresses herself to the smallest, that she is present for them, that we can turn to her at any moment without having to pay an entrance fee, just with our hearts."
This greatness has nothing to do with "exterior majesty," the Pontiff continued, but rather with "goodness of heart that offers to all the experience of what it means to be together."