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Austria: Kreuzbichl, the church split into two by the road. A story that began in the 1400s and goes on even now

The faithful who go to the Church of Gmünd, in Carinthia, the Kreuzbichl (the Church on the Hill), must mind where they sit and must not mind the noise too much: because the church is run through by a road: on the right there is the apse with the frescoes and the altar, and on the left, past the road, there are two floors with the pews for the faithful. The two buildings are open and, if a car – or a cart in the old times – drives through during the service the officiating priest would have to stop an then resume the liturgy. The story of this little church began back in 1443, and, as told by Anton Fritz, director of Gmünd’s Stadtverein, “it is located along a double junction, and its being there has been reported since 1588”. Gmünd is located along the ancient road that connected Carinthia, Salzburg and Venice, heading for the big Alpine mountains and passes; the journey was long and dangerous for traders, so, according to Fritz, “a shrine may have been built there to pray and ask for protection during the journey or to thank on the way back”. At first, there was only the part with the altar and the pilgrims stood outside: but the part with the pews was built in 1820, so the pilgrims could stay inside. Nowadays, the road is not so widely used any more, but in the meantime a discovery increased the value of the Kreuzbichl, and not only its spiritual value: a fresco, presumably painted by one of Michelangelo’s apprentices over a drawing by the Italian artist.

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