Pilgrimage to Venice during the Time of the Pandemic

When my daughter Anna-Sophie asked me if I would like to travel with her to Venice, I immediately jumped at it. Not only did I want to spend time with my daughter, but I also wanted to finally see the triptych of St. Wilgefortis, the subject of my master’s thesis.

It was 25 years ago that I had heard about this saint when studying art history at Arizona State University. I travelled twice to Venice to see the triptych and each time, I failed. It seemed perfect to go on a pilgrimage during the pandemic, when Venice was nearly empty.

I booked a sleeping compartment from Vienna to Venice in order to travel safely. This safety was an illusion. We were robbed during the night. Somebody with an universal key sneaked into our cabin and took our purses. Luckily, my handbag was found in one of the bathrooms with all my documents, but no money. My daughter’s purse was never found. She lost her diary with her notes about her hike of the Pacific Trail in California. This loss was hard for her.

After checking into our lovely Airbnb apartment, we took a vaporetto (motor boat used as bus) to the Gallerie dell’ Accademia, where we met my niece and her daughter. They also wanted to see the painting of Wilgefortis by Hieronymus Bosch.





Canale Grande




Canale Grande on the way to the Gallerie dell’ Academia


The story of Wilgefortis was created in Flanders in the 15th century. She supposedly was a Portuguese princess resisting her father’s demand to marry a prince from Sicily, who was not Christian. God responded to her prayers and let her grow a beard. Her father was so infuriated that he ordered her to be crucified like Christ. On the cross, she turned into the image of Christ. This saint, who never existed, was venerated all over Europe.





Center piece of the tryptich of Wilgefortis (sorry about the reflection)





The man in the foreground is probably her father. He points with his right hand to his crucified daughter and with his pointing finger of his left hand towards the ground –  expressions of condemnation.





Figures on the left side of the cross often cover the head, close their eyes or do not look at St. Wilgefortis – expressions of ignorance and shame.





Wilgefortis (the strong virgin), is totally untouched by the emotions expressed on earth. She is in another realm – in a place of total openness. As she places every emotion in boundless and limitless space, nothing can touch her anymore. She is crowned by her suffering, which she left behind – no wonder, that one of her names is Liberata.


We spent a long time in front of the painting, connected with it and wrote down our thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper. At the end, we shared our experiences.



We also read a poem written by Rainer Maria Rilke about this saint. Each of us read it aloud to the group. My daughter Susanne had translated it for my thesis into English. I would like to share it with you.



Overflowing heavens of squandered stars

are gleaming above sorrow. Instead of into pillows

cry up. Here, at the already crying

at the fading face

reaching around itself, starts the all engulfing universe.

Who disrupts, when you strive towards there,

the flow. No one, unless

you suddenly struggle with the overpowering direction

those constellations have toward you.


Breath into the dark of this earth and again

look up! Again. Easily and featureless

depths leans towards you from above. The freed

night embracing face is making room for yours.

Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Susanne Wild)


The rest of the day until evening, we just walked through empty streets along quiet canals with hardly any boats moving on it, crossed bridges, passed closed hotels and empty restaurants. A melancholic mood full of immense beauty covered the city and we felt it.









Restaurant waiting for costumers











The image of a migrant child signalling for help by the British street artist Bansky on a crumbling wall beside one of the Venice canals.



At the end of the day, we met again for a 100 minute kayak experience through the canals of Cannaregio, the former Jewish Ghetto.







Sunset at the lagoon

Born and raised in a village along the Danube in Austria, Traude Wild soon ventured out into the world. After a two-year program for tourism in Klesheim/Salzburg, she spent nearly a year in South Africa and Namibia. By returning back to Austria, she acquired a Master of Economics at the University of Vienna. After moving to the United States with her four children, she studied Art History at Arizona State University and stayed in the United States for fourteen years. Here, she was teaching Art History in several Universities like Webster University and University of Missouri-St. Louis. Now, she lives partially in Arizona and Vienna and works together with her husband for the University of South-Carolina, Moore School of business as Adjunct Professor organising and leading Study tours in Central Europe. She also teaches at the Sigmund Freud University in Vienna. Since 1999, she is practicing Zen meditation in the lineage of Katagiri Roshi. She loves to hike and to write and is a student of Natalie Goldberg. During her often many weeks long hikes she brings her awareness into the Here and Now, describing her experiences in an authentic way. She loves to walk pilgrimages. The longest hike so far was the 1,400 km long 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan in 2016.

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