The ancestors of the Brindlinger family, the initiators and builders of this architectural highlight at a unique location at 2.087m in the Zillertal Alps, found their income in garnet mining. Garnets (carbuncles) are considered the Zillertal’s folk gemstone. Josef Hofer (1802–1872), the great-grandfather of Josef Brindlinger senior, was a successful quarryman who mined garnet in the Zillertal, in the Ahrntal and also in Carinthia. This gave rise to the idea of building the chapel as a garnet chapel, thus creating a worthy memorial to Josef Hofer.
The garnet chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Engelbert Kolland, who was born in Ramsau in the Zillertal in 1827 as a contemporary of garnet quarryman Hofer, and died as a priest and martyr in Syria in 1860. You can look down on the Zillertal village of Ramsau, the home parish of the Zillertal Franciscan, from the chapel. In this way, a gemstone that has been significant for the Zillertal for centuries, the garnet, is linked to the spiritual jewel of the valley, the Blessed Engelbert.
The famous Swiss architect Mario Botta agreed to take on the design and construction of the chapel, thus creating his first building in Austria. As a counterpoint to nature, Botta placed an oversized crystal in the form of a rhombic dodecahedron on a rocky outcrop east of the Penkenjoch reservoir. Especially in the mountains, perception is heightened, according to Mario Botta – a piece of pure geometry like this chapel helps to better read nature, the landscape, the sky and the atmosphere.
It was not by chance on the anniversary of the Blessed Engelbert’s death, 10 July 2012, that the approval meeting for the project took place. The authorities of the state government were very sympathetic to this project from the very beginning and facilitated an unbureaucratic process with all the necessary procedures or permits. Thus, the construction of the chapel could commence on 17 June 2013 and was completed on schedule by the time of the inauguration ceremony on 22 September 2013 - the Blessed Engelbert’s baptismal day.
One can imagine that the location of the building site at an altitude of over 2.000 metres was a formidable challenge; on 24 June 2013, for example, work had to be suspended due to 30 centimetres of fresh snow.
On 22 September 2013 – 186 years after the Blessed Engelbert’s baptism day – the Garnet Chapel on the Penken was inaugurated. Everyone had come: Architect Mario Botta with his wife Maria, the local architects and artists, representatives of the “Zillertaler Gletscherbahnen” cable car (the chapel can only be reached by visitors on foot or by cable car), the craftsmen and many contributors and advisors to the ambitious project. Several clergymen consecrated the chapel, and Dean Niederwieser's words reverberated widely when he said: “Each of us is like a garnet that must first be polished to reach its full brilliance. The question is whether we allow ourselves to be polished by HIM. Then we will be recognised in our divine origin and destiny, just as the garnet chapel is recognised from afar. We will also become a contradiction to some, like the extraordinary form of the chapel.”
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