Karin Leperi makes a trip to the region called home by the current pope and where one million pilgrims make an annual trek to Altoetting to visit the Black Madonna.

[All photos credit to author except where noted]

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St. Peter's Cathedral, Regensburg

1. St. Peter’s Cathedral in Regensburg Once considered to be the richest town in all of southern Germany because of the preponderance of buildings crafted in stone; today, Regensburg -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site -- is arguably one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany. St. Peter’s Cathedral is the spiritual center of town, with gothic rib-vaulted ceilings and colorful stained glass windows dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Pope Benedict XVI was a professor of theology at the University of Regensburg from 1969 – 1977, and remains an honorary professor to this day. He is quoted as saying, “I really feel at home here.”

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Historical Sausage Kitchen

2. Historical Sausage Kitchen Regensburg lays claim to having the oldest preserved stone bridge in Germany as well as some of the best sausage to be found in Bavaria. The Historical Sausage Kitchen, at the foot of the bridge, supposedly dates back to the 12th century, when the bridge was built. Today, it provides nourishment for spiritual seekers.

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Passau on the Danube

3. Passau on the Danube Passau is located in southeast Germany, along the Austrian border, where the Danube River flows past the great Bavarian Forest. Because Passau is situated at the confluence of three rivers -- the Danube, Inn and Ilz -- it is also known as “Bavarian Venice.”

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St. Steven’s Cathedral in Passau

4. St. Steven’s Cathedral in Passau St. Steven’s Cathedral is located on the old town’s highest point. It is built in Italian Baroque style.

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World’s Largest Cathedral Organ

5. World’s Largest Cathedral Organ Within St. Steven’s Cathedral is the world’s largest cathedral organ. It contains 17,974 organ pipes, 233 stops, and 4 carillons.

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New Bishop’s Residence in Passau

6. New Bishop’s Residence in Passau Built in the early 18th century when Passau was capital of the largest diocese of the Holy Roman Empire, the New Bishop’s Residence now houses historical treasures. The rococo stairways are worth a peek.

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Passau

7. Passau Glass Museum Possibly the most beautiful glass house in the world, the museum houses glass-work from 1650--1950, with pieces from the Baroque, Rococo, Empire, Biedermeier, Historism, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modernism periods. There is a special emphasis on artisans and works representing Silesia, Bohemia and Bavaria.

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Burghausen

8. Burghausen Castle On the road from Passau to Altoetting, is the longest castle in Europe. Burghausen Castle is a Gothic fortification originally built to protect locals against seiges by the Turks and subsequent advances by the Swedes.

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Altoetting’s

9. Altoetting’s Chapel of Mercy The Chapel of Mercy -- a small, octagon-shaped church believed to have been built around the year 680 -- is considered to be the spiritual center of Bavaria. About 1 million people visit the shrine annually to see its most precious artifact, the Black Madonna, which is housed inside the chapel. About 30,000 pilgrims arrive on foot to honor the Madonna. Some compare the spiritual significance of Germany’s Black Madonna of Altoetting with France’s Lady of Lourdes.

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Black

10. Black Madonna of Altoetting The shrine chapel, the oldest of its kind in Germany, is hewn from volcanic rock. Inside, the linden-wood carved Black Madonna is thought to have darkened when rescued from fire in the year 970. Others speculate that the darkened wood is the result of constant exposure to candle soot and smoke. Whatever the reason, many miracles have been attributed over the years to the Black Madonna of Altoetting. [Photo: Altoetting Tourism]