Pilgrimage Chapel to the Virgin Mary ‘Zur Hohen Stiege’ was built in 1687 and the porch was added in 1747. Both the Chapel Way and Meditation Way lead past the chapel.
Pious shepherds and passers-by once worshipped a miraculous shrine of the Virgin Mary at this place, which was embedded in a wall. The open-air place of devotion, that was off the passing road, was known as ‘zum Bildlein’.
In 1687, a chapel was built at this place of pilgrimage. Anton Ruppen, a local stonemason and master builder, supervised the construction. The tools that were prepared for the construction of the High Baroque chapel are said to have been moved by invisible hands during the night, a legend that has been handed down for many pilgrimage chapels. Instead of being built in the hollow below, the chapel was therefore built into the rock at its present location.
A large stone staircase that led to the ‘Gnadenkapelle’ (Chapel of Grace) was constructed in 1704, leading to the chapel receiving the name ‘Zur Hohen Stiege’.
Along the path from Saas-Grund to ‘Zur Hohen Stiege’, a chapel trail with 15 small chapels, representing the 15 Mysteries of the Rosary, was created between 1708–1711. This chapel trail follows the tradition of the ‘Sacri Monti’ of northern Italy, which were constructed during the time of the Counter-Reformation. The first was the ‘Sacro Monte’ in Varallo, a place near Lake Orta where people from Saas often went on pilgrimage to.
A sign of the immense popularity of the pilgrimage chapel ‘Zur Hohen Stiege’ during the mid-18th century can be seen in the unusually large and elaborate porch, which was constructed in 1747. As an ‘open chapel’, it is an architectural curiosity; furnished with a late Gothic stellar ribbed vault and decorated with tuff-coloured acanthus blossoms and cherubs. The porch opens into three archways of Tuscan granite columns on high gneiss plinths. It serves as a chancel during celebratory masses.
There are impressive artworks in the centre of the chapel, such as the magnificent high altar (1695–1709) which is reputed to be the work of an Italian old master. The central figure is a representation of the Virgin Mary; on her right arm, she is carrying the Infant Jesus who is holding the globe. Votive offerings in the form of human body parts are displayed under the gallery, which was made in 1755. These were fashioned by pious pilgrims who had found healing and an answer to their prayers here in the chapel.
Worshippers from all four valley parishes meet annually for the chapel feast day on 8 September (‘Acht Taga Herbscht’). For many years, pilgrims from Macugnaga in the neighbouring Anzasca Valley travelled to the chapel on this day, which commemorates the Nativity of Mary.
Between 1956–1958, the chapel and its furnishings underwent a thorough restoration, and between 1982–1983 an exterior renovation was carried out under the supervision of architect David Casetti. For the 100th anniversary of the parish of Saas-Fee in 1993, the 15 rosary chapels as well as their statues and paintings were extensively renovated.