Has there ever been one of those magical travel moments when you decide on a whim to explore the area around you and uncover a hidden treasure? That is how I felt late one afternoon when I decided to take an evening walk to the neighboring village of Waltenhofen near where we were staying in the outskirts of Schwangau, Germany. I had just returned from an emotional afternoon revisiting the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, the very place my husband proposed to me 19 years ago, and needed some alone time to reflect on the experience. My husband had unfortunately not been able to come along on the trip as planned due to an injury and I ended up bringing our two children and my father to this special place despite it all. It had been a difficult few months since my husband’s back injury and this trip was in a sense a sort of revival of my broken spirit.
I left my daughter Sophia back at the hotel for some downtime while I set off into the Bavarian countryside with my mind full of thought. I wondered what the summer would hold for us as a family once we returned from our three-week trip in Europe. Would my husband’s back injury be resolved or would we continue to live in a gray cloud of uncertainty.
I walked slowly along the beautiful country path looking out at the pastures of horses and cows and taking in the nostalgic beauty of such a place. It felt like this area hadn’t changed much at all since the day King Ludwig II built his sensational castle Neuschwanstein as a testament to his love of the middle ages. Farmers rode by on their tractors. Cows grazed. Horses neighed and galloped gently across the unfettered fields of joy. Bees buzzed and drank the rich nectar from the flowers. It was lovely.
The dark sky had slightly lifted and let in a few rays of light, bathing the dark green fields with warmth. Unintentionally I knew where I was headed. To the place I saw the day before during lunch. The mysterious church standing proudly at the foot of the village of Walfenhofen. It beckoned my curiosity as I always am fascinated by the interior of a good European church. I normally find that once I open the large wooden doors, that what is hidden inside is incredible. Ironically enough, this visit I would never step foot within the church doors and I’d find myself instead mesmerized by what laid in its exterior.
As I reached the edge of town, suddenly the church bells began to ring. There was not a soul around save a few bikers passing by. I stared up at the gloomy sky, taking in a few shots of the outside of the church noticing the lovely mural running up its side and the dates 747 etched into a stone alongside the words “Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian” (Parish Church of St. Maria and Florian).
For some reason, I didn’t go inside the church but instead chose to enter through the wrought iron gates of the cemetery. As soon as I entered, I let out a gasp of unexpected surprise. There before me was perhaps one of the most beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.
I walked slowly making sure I was not disturbing anyone who had come to give their respect to a loved one. The only person I saw was the caretaker who was watering the alters that were filled with vast arrays of meticulously cared for flowers and scrubs. Each gravestone was unique and besides the perfectly manicured flowers and plants, almost all had little white angels and photos of the loved once who rested below. Walking through the cemetery literally took my breath away by its divine beauty and brought tears to my eyes. As the church bells struck five, I walked around in a dumbstruck trance, in awe of this place.
I instantly felt a serene sense of being and almost like someone was looking down on me. I’m by no means that religious however I am spiritual and being inside this cemetery was quite a divine experience that is hard to place into words. I could tell by looking at each memorial how well each person had been loved and is still being loved today.
The only information that I was able to find is that a small church was built in 746 on this very ground and over the centuries, the church has been renovated many times. In 1520, the church had a major expansion and was named in honor of the Virgin Mary and St. Martyrs Florian. It has stood strong ever since.
I never went inside the church which looking back I wish I had taken the time. But perhaps the best was what I found outside. The mysterious beauty and utter love and devotion of those who passed.
If you go:
The Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian” (Parish Church of St. Maria and Florian) is located in the village of Waltenhofen near Schwangau. There are plenty of lovely traditional German restaurants and lodges to stay at in both Waltenhofen and Brunnen. We stayed at the Landhotel Hoberhof and loved it. It is less than a five minute drive to the main tourist attraction, Neushwanstein, and also only ten minutes away from the Bavarian town, Füssen.