Research Stream


Charles Zika
The University of Melbourne

Sarah Randles
The University of Melbourne


Emotions, Sacred Place & Community: the Shrine of Mariazell

This project explores the ways in which sacred places are invested with emotions and also generate emotions, thereby creating a particular collective identity and community. This project, focused on the Austrian shrine of Mariazell, from the 14th to 18th centuries, examines how the Hapsburg Emperor and family in the 17th and 18th centuries deployed collective emotions associated with pilgrimage rituals at the shrine to support their religious ideology and dynastic ends.

Emotions, Sacred Place and Community

The aim of the project is to explore the emotions created in response to sacred space through the late middle ages and early modern periods. It will explore the fundamental techniques of fashioning religious community through emotions, especially emotions that underpin belonging and inclusion, and it will attempt to trace the way these emotions change over time in response to social crisis, political realignments, environmental change, religious reorganization and different religious styles and behavioral decorum.

The case study to be examined is the Benedictine shrine of Mariazell in Austria, a medieval pilgrimage site founded in the twelfth century, that achieved widespread popularity as well as imperial and noble patronage by the fifteenth, fell into decline in the sixteenth, and reached its apogee as part of the Counter Reformation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to become the preeminent Hapsburg and national Austrian shrine.

The project will explore how the shrine became a special site of healing, protection and liberation, and how devotion to the Virgin and site was maintained through the wonder, love, trust and thankfulness of devotees, given expression through stories, prayers, sermons and rituals, as well as through the objects and architectural spaces within which these emotional practices were learnt and performed. A particular focus will be the manner in which the shrine’s emotional outpourings were re-directed in the seventeenth century to expressions of penitence and military struggle as part of the shrine’s gradual assimilation of the shrine to Hapsburg religious ideology and dynastic interest.

Papers Presented

‘Emotions Research and Pilgrimage Studies: the case of the Austrian shrine of Mariazell’, at the Assessing Pilgrimage Studies Today conference, Humanities Research Centre, University of York, 5-6 July 2014

‘Saints Eleutherius and Cyrillus at the Shrine of Mariazell (1650): reflections on the emotional powers of relics and images’, at Relics and Emotions Symposium, University of Melbourne, 21 March 2014

‘Mariazell and the Hapsburgs: Redirecting Religious Emotion to Dynastic Ends’, at symposium, Sacred Places, Pilgrimage and Emotions, University of Melbourne, 23-25 May 2013