The Miracle of Waisach
Many pilgrims have asked themselves in the past why the Hieronymite hospice Waisach was built in the exact place where it stands today – namely about 500 meters from the parish church of Waisach.
The parish of Waisach was founded in 1737 by Count Leopold Orsini-Rosenberg after separated from the parish church of Lind im Drautal. The monastery bears the house number Waisach 1. Although it is part of the village of Bruggen, it was not built – as one might have assumed – in the vicinity of the village of Waisach and its small church.
More detailed research in the federal state archives brought no answers. There are neither plans nor written records about the motives of the Hieronymite Fathers in building the monastery here. Then we discovered an old copper engraving from the year 1756, which speaks of a “devout alliance for the promotion of steadfast cleansing of body and soul” by the St. Jerome’s springs in Weissach. It was then that we remembered the “Story of Michelele” told here, which recounts the miraculous rescue of a little boy who rose from the dead.
The Legend of Michelele
Long before the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa ruled the area, a child was born at the Badwirt in Bruggen. The little boy’s name was Michael, and he had a grace and beauty that any mother could love. He was calm, rosy-cheeked, and blond; winning in nature and lively in temperament. But the child was also curious and could not be left unattended because he would run away to speak to the animals. He was an only child, with only the animals as his playmates – his mother was constantly working in the tavern, his father in the forest.
Once the child was found with the pigs in the wallow, another time cackling with the chickens. He loved to play with the baby goats and bunnies in their hutch where he would feed them dandelions. His parents loved him, and each other, deeply but there were no grandparents, no aunts or uncles to watch the boy. All were too busy with their own work. His parents tried to keep him in their garden and in the courtyard, but he would sneak out to play with and feed his beloved animals. Invariably, he would be found and brought home again safe and sound.
One day, however, he disappeared and simply could not be found. His mother worried, but Michael’s father was working far away. Half the village went looking to bring the child back home, but there was not a sound, not a trace of the boy. They searched everywhere for Michael – along the banks of the brook at Badwirt, in the stables, in the woods, in the wetlands – but there was no sign of the child. The sky darkened, the wind died down and the birds fell silent. Michael’s mother was devastated. Her only child was gone.
Many worried that the boy might have fallen into the Drava River. During the melting of the snow, the river frequently overflowed its banks, flooding the meandering floodplains and tributaries and large parts of the fertile valley floor. The flooded fields were a popular playground for the children in the area, with myriads of tadpoles, amphibians, insects and dragonflies in summer, with tiny fish and big toads. But there was no trace of Michael.
From Kreuzberg, from the Granglitzen, from Brennach and Kojlach, down through the porous rock on the country road to Bruggen and from there in the direction of Amlach and Greifenburg, water flowed into rivulets and small brooks. It was collected by the local farmers in deep round wells to use over the often dry summer. One of these brick wells – about 600 feet east of the Badwirt – had been so fascinating to little Michael that he had climbed straight up and fallen into the depths.
Hours were spent searching, every building was combed through, every hutch and nest turned over in an attempt to find the child. Finally, just as the townspeople had nearly given up hope, a Waisinger farmhand found the boy in the well. The man was known for his inventions, everything from technical to optical gadgets. He went from well to well with a pocket mirror to direct the sunlight down into the depths to search for the child. Lo and behold, in the fountain in what would become the monastery garden, the child lay in knee-deep water, completely motionless and rigid with the cold.
The farmhand jumped down and retrieved the boy. The pastor was already there, ready to give the holy sacraments. There was little hope of bringing Michel back to life. After being in the water for so long his pulse could hardly be felt. They were certain he was dead. The nurse, who had been brought along, immediately began resuscitation, knocking and shaking the boy. At long last, black thunderclouds that had been threatened in the afternoon cleared, and the sun came out again warming his little body.
The news of the miraculous rescue of Michelele spread in no time, from Waisach to Greifenburg, across the entire Drautal in the direction of Ortenburg near Spittal, where Prince Porcia had donated a monastery to the Order of the Hieronymites around the turn of the century in 1700. Many years later, in 1737, Count Leopold Orsini-Rosenberg lay on his deathbed and, like Porcia, decreed his last will a monastery for Waisach as thanks for his rich life and good deed for the Hieronymitan Order of Petri di Pisa, who came to Carinthia via Wolfgang Holzer (Father Onuphrius).
The Water Springs of St. Jerome
When the monks of the order started to build the monastery below the parish church of St. Nikolaus in Waisach in 1746, the residents demanded that the future monastery building be built on the site of the miraculous rescue of little Michael: in the Waisach fields, directly above the old fountain near the Badwirt von Bruggen. So it came about that, in memory of little Michelele, the construction work was moved from the Waisach village to the meadows and the previously unnamed fountain and was consecrated to St. Jerome.
In the 1950ies the numerous mineral springs of Waisach have been scientifically investigated and documented. They are not only some of the springs with the greatest abundance of water and minerals in Austria, but are now also home to the richest and largest trout farm in Upper Carinthia. Since its construction, all the children in the area have been baptized in the Waisach Monastery, and no children have died there since.