During the 10th century, Count Rasso, the legendary progenitor of the counts of Andechs, brought relics associated with Jesus - known as “Herrenreliquien” from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to the mountain at Andechs.
Beginning in 1128, Count Berthold II of Andechs compelled his subjects to undertake an annual pilgrimage to Andechs to pay homage to the relics – referred to as the holy treasure (Heiltums). Political events led to the downfall of the hugely powerful Andechs ducal house. In 1246, the castle at Andechs was destroyed, with the exception of the castle chapel: the relic treasure was thought to be lost. During a Holy Mass in 1388, a mouse was said to have dragged forth a scrap of paper – proof of the lost relic treasure - into the former chapel. There is historical proof of the rediscovery of the buried relics beneath the altar. It was with this find that a pilgrims returned to Andechs en masse. In 1455, the Wittelsbach Duke Albrecht III founded the Benedictine monastery in order to oversee and protect the relic treasure, as well as tend to the pilgrims.
During the Late Middle Ages, Andechs - along with Aachen and Trier – numbered among the three largest pilgrimage destinations within Germany. Here in Andechs, the relics were presented (known as “Weisung” in German) so that the pilgrims could view, venerate, and request intercession from the saints. Because the pilgrimage church was usually too small for the vast numbers of pilgrims, the relics were displayed for veneration from the window of the present-day chapel dedicated to St. Hedwig. In addition to the display of relics, church services were also held in the pilgrimage church. Here, pilgrims also had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of confession. During the display of relics, prayers, songs, and litanies were recited and sung, depending on whether the relic was associated with Jesus (i.e. the fragment from the crown of thorns) or belonged to a martyr saint. During this time, pilgrims would assemble with their flags at the square in front of the church, often for hours at a time.
Methods and Patterns of Veneration of the relics, such as their general status within the cult of Christianity, have evolved over the course of the centuries. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Andechs also developed into a Marian pilgrimage site, so that in addition to the relics and the three holy hosts (Heiligen Drei Hostien), the Virgin Mary also became an subject of adoration. The importance of this element of the Andechs pilgrimage is demonstrated by the miraculous image at the lower high altar with the seated Madonna with the Christ Child.
The Pilgrimage after 1803 When monastic life was dissolved in the wake of secularization in 1803, Holy Mountain entered into an era full of vicissitudes. It was only on account of its economic significance that the monastery could continue to exist.
Following the Second World War, St. Hedwig became a part of the pilgrimage to Andechs. For the many who were displaced from their homeland, especially those from Silesia, Andechs became a cherished point of reference to their old homeland, especially since a skull relic from the saint has been here since 1929.
The spectacle of the relic display is a thing of the past. Many pilgrimage groups welcome the monks with holy water, followed by a celebration of the mass with the pilgrims. The majority of pilgrims take their leave after the midnight vigil, at which time devotional objects such as rosaries and crosses are blessed. In place of the display of relics, the faithful are blessed with the triple-host monstrance during the celebration of the three hosts (Dreihostienfest ) at Andechs. In addition to the yearly influx of pilgrims, evidence of the long-standing pilgrimage tradition at Andechs is demonstrated by the many votive candles – often centuries-old - located at the wax vault (Wachsgewölbe ) in the west section of the pilgrimage church. Countless ex-votos also document the deep connection of the pilgrimage villages and pilgrims to Holy Mountain, named as such since the beginning of the 15th century on account of the relics preserved here.
At present, over 130 organized pilgrimage groups with over 40,000 pilgrims per year travel to Holy Mountain. The peak season of the pilgrimage takes place during the so-called Rogations (the week preceding Ascension) and the celebration of the three hosts, which is held during the last Weekend of September.