The Hall-Wattens region of Austria is proud of its cultural heritage - in both religious and secular respects. In rural parts many customs have been protected and are still nurtured to this day.
Thaur, in particular, with its tradition of crib-carving, the "Mullerlaufen" Shrovetide characters and the famous Palm procession, has made quite a name for itself.
For more than 200 years, a traditional Christ on a Donkey procession has been staged in Thaur. This custom, which used to be performed in many places, was successfully revived in Hall a few decades ago.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages, almost every village had its own palm donkey for the Palm procession, a ritual symbolising Christ's arrival in Jerusalem. Often it was a life-sized model donkey, upon which a carving of Christ was often seated. The procession with the palm donkey was once widespread not only in the southern parts of the German-speaking world, but also in some Dutch and Belgian regions.
People also used to sit on a donkey among "Christ's followers". In the first year after their election, Salzburg's archbishops would join in the palm procession to the Nonnbergkirche − not on a lowly donkey, but on a white horse.
According to a report of 1785, in the area around Salzburg and in southern Bavaria, children were allowed to ride on a live palm donkey until the Council of Cardinals banned the "Donkey Festival". Usually wooden donkeys, decoratively adorned and with a seated Christ figure, were placed on a float and pulled along in the procession.
At the start of the 19th century, a very special, and much admired, processional donkey, was kept under Salzburg's Nonnberger Gate. The wooden creature was thought to have miraculous powers as it had special device, which cast out figs and locust beans.
Most of these donkeys fell victim to the iconoclastic fervour of the Reformation. Those donkeys that survived the upheaval were finally banished during the Enlightenment at the end of the 18th century.
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- I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.