About a 400,000-strong crowd flocked to Šaštín in 1995 to attend a mass served by Pope John Paul II. It was his second visit to Slovakia in the brief period following the fall of the totalitarian regime. The service was held on a 54-hectare meadow near Šaštín’s emblematic basilica minor.
Fast forward 26 years later, the small western-Slovak town is getting ready for another papal visit, albeit with smaller attendance due to the pandemic. Pope Francis is scheduled to meet with the Slovak bishops in Šaštín and then hold a holy mass with the homily of the Holy Father on the last day of his upcoming visit to Slovakia on September 15.
The day marks the religious holiday of Our Lady of Sorrows, the patron saint of Slovakia. It is a national holiday around the country, while in Šaštín, the one-time pilgrimage site of the Kingdom of Hungary, it is a day of an annual national pilgrimage.
“Šaštín is considered the national Marian shrine and as such has a special place among Slovakia’s churches,” Juraj Tirpák, priest and member of the Order of St Paul the First Hermit that cares for the basilica, told The Slovak Spectator.
It began with a bad marriage
Šaštín has been marked on the religious map since the Middle Ages. The first written mention of the place comes from 1204.
The site was an important fortress to protect the trading routes between the Hungarian and Czech kingdoms. The castle, standing near the Myjava River, served as the seat of the archdeacon’s office, who acted as the deputy of the bishop.
Its beginnings as a pilgrimage site date back to the second half of the 16th century, closely connected to a legend about a married couple: Countess Angelika Bakičová and her husband Imrich Czobor.
Czobor had been treating his wife badly and in 1564, left her stranded in the forest in Šaštín. She was frightened and began to pray to the Virgin Mary for help, promising to build a wooden statue of the Our Lady of the Sorrows if her prayers were answered.
The legend says that her marriage indeed improved significantly. The countess kept her promise and had a wooden statue made and placed on a pillar where she had prayed.