The heart and the destination of the pilgrimage of Mariastein is the shrine. In the course of the centuries, the rocky cave was converted into a harmonious chapel, which is reached by a staircase with 59 steps, which has been carved into the rock. The chapel is first documented in 1434.
Since 1442 it is also known why there is a chapel of the Virgin Mary: a boy has fallen down into the valley at this point, and has miraculously been unharmed by the intercession of the Mother of God. From this a richly embellished legend developed, how everything exactly happened. Soon the place of pilgrimage attracted believers from near and far. The priest of Metzerlen had to be supported by a pilgrim’s priest.
The holy effigy is a sitting, painted Madonna of stone, which holds the Jesus Child on the right arm. As already shown in the past, Mary is enthroned with her child freely on the rocky wall ("in the rock"). The origin of the effigy is uncertain. It must trace back to a Gothic original and was erected after the Reformation, but before the construction of the monastery.
The official title of the holy effigy is "Mother of Consolation", but the pilgrims call it the smiling Madonna. As the many Ex Votos to the shrine show, many people are still experiencing help and comfort with Mary. The Ex Votos testify to many answered prayers.
Mary and Jesus are always endowed with a splendid fabric dress. Altogether, Mary and Jesus possess over twenty different garments, all of which were donated by pilgrims, as well as the jewelery which both wear. The clothes are changed several times a year, depending on the festive period of the liturgical calendar. In 1926 on behalf of Pope Pius XI. the holy effigy was solemnly crowned by the papal nuncio in Switzerland.
It gives desperate and searching people the necessary support and hope. For centuries, it has given orientation and support.
Many years ago, a farmer's wife and her child were herding cattle. For a break, she lies down in a shady cave. Exhausted from the hard work, she falls into a deep sleep. When she wakes up, she misses her child. Desperate, she goes in search of her child and finds it in the valley. The uninjured child tells of his fall over the rock and how his fall was miraculously caught. In gratitude for the miraculous rescue, the father has a chapel built over the cave where the mother was sleeping.
Despite the long passage of time, the legend has lost none of its power or relevance. For many centuries, the grotto with the smiling Madonna has exerted its fascination undiminished. Even today, people of all countries, all ages and skin colours, all cultures and religions find courage, help and comfort at this important place of pilgrimage.