A half-day hike above Stans to the Maria Tax Chapel. Taxen is an old regional word for Tannen, or fir tree. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary made an appearance here in 1616, leaving behind her handprint on a stone, a picture of which was then attached to a tree for people to come and revere it. So we have here both a stone and a tree of religious importance (I was able to find neither, unless the stone is now part of the fountain behind the chapel*.) In 1627 a wooden chapel was built, in 1667 a stone one. In the same year the first hermit moved into the sacristy. Sacred trees were a thing with the pre-Christian inhabitants all over Europe. Christianity treated the worship of trees as idolatry and this led to their deliberate destruction. From this site I learned a little more (translation mine):
When St. Boniface took an axe to the sacred Donar’s Oak at Geismar, Germany in 724, and didn’t get struck by lightning for it, he was able to proclaim the victory of Christianity. One sacred tree after another fell, and the Teutons were forced to drop their local religion and accept Christianity. Nevertheless many may not have forgiven Boniface for this desecration; he was slain 754 by the Frisians. According to many legends, when a sacred tree is cut, it bleeds from the sacrilege. Therefore the woodcutter asks the tree for forgiveness before cutting it. And many legends report of cruel punishments for messing with sacred trees . Ultimately behind such legends is the idea of the tree as seat of the Godhead. From a fiery burning bush God speaks to Moses; to Joan of Arc from the branches of a tree. The Buddha’s enlightenment takes place under a tree. The old-rooted idea of the sanctity of trees survived within Christianity and continues in myths and legends of holy images on or in trees. Particularly frequently encountered are sightings of Mary, or her image, in a tree. Many names of pilgrimages hold the discovery of a miraculous image in trees, such as “Mary of the linden”, “Mary of the fir tree”, “Mary in the hazel”, “Mary of the larch”…
Further along on the trail, a pair of Steinmänner guard the way. Thirty minutes later, the St. Georgenberg-Fiecht Abbey looms above. I’ve been here before, but it’s getting late and so I turn in the direction of home by way of the Wolfsklamm. An army of Steinmänner! It’s like an Alpine version of the Terracotta Warriors, or the Kodama tree spirits in “Princess Mononoke”. How delightful and unexpected. The Wolfsklamm in Stans has been renovated
and, apparently, re-routed, in that the path through it no longer involves the pitch-black tunnels that I recall from my previous visit. Too bad, because they were fun in a scary way (it was the the first time I ever used my old cell phone as a flashlight out of sheer necessity). It’s possible that someone complained. [Sorry, that’s the Partenachklamm! But the Wolfsklamm bridges have all been rebuilt with sturdy new boards.] But the gorge is still impressive and well worth the €4,50 “toll”.
*The Schwazer Heimatblätter suggests a different origin: that the St. Georgenberg Abbey was having an image problem with pilgrims, due to a prominent prisoner being kept there. It’s suspected that the monks themselves started the Mary-was-here story in order to keep the pilgrimages coming — that kind of thing is profitable for monasteries, after all.