In the picturesque Liesertal valley north of Gmünd, Carinthia, lies a unique architectural gem – the Roman Catholic church, Sankt Maria. Uniquely straddling a roadway, this quaint sanctuary offers an experience unlike any other, where sermons sometimes pause for passing vehicles.

The church’s humble origins trace back to 1443 when it served as a Marterl, or a roadside shrine, on a bustling trade route from Venice to Salzburg. A change came in 1754 when a chapel was built, slightly elevated from the road. The congregation would gather right there on the road, open to the elements.

Addressing the issue, a thoughtful pastor in the late 18th century ordered the construction of a sheltered, two-storied building across the road. This structure, housing seating facilities, offered a clear view of the road and was secured by beautiful wrought-iron gates.

Sankt Maria boasts remarkable features that add to its allure. These include a fresco influenced by Michelangelo, a heart-shaped holy water container, and a cryptic inscription hinting at the building’s age, using Roman numerals to mark the year 1784. There’s also a small drawing in remembrance of the original Marterl from 1443.

Today, the frequency of services has lessened, but the church’s charm remains undiminished. The city of Gmünd, committed to preserving this historic wonder, ensures it stands tall and magnificent for generations to come through regular and thorough restorations.

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