Austria has an extensive religious history. Religion is deeply etrenched in Austrian history and played a major role in European history. With the Reformation, Europe was engulfhed in terrible religious wars. Austria was the center of the Catholic Counter Reformation. Austria is primarily associated with the Roman Catholic church, but the coutry's religious history is much more diverse. While Catholics predominate, over tume a spirit of toleration has developed. Austria since he early-Medieval era has been mosly Catholic. Most Austrians are Roman Catholic. The 1971 Census indicated ovr 87 percent. Austria has been affected by the secular trends that have affected all of Europe. The 1991 Census indicated that the percentage of Catholics had declined to 78 percent. The number of Protestants aklso declined. One of Austria's most important minorities were the Jews. There were about 0.2 million Jews in Austria, primarily concentrated in Vienna. Tragically, the NAZIs destroyed Austria's Jewish minority in the Holocaust.
Austrians are still mostly Catholics. Many are culturally Catholic, but do not actively practice. Boys of course dress up to go to church. Often new suits are bought for First Communion, Confirmation, and Firmung.
Austria has an extensive religious history. Religion is deeply etrenched in Austrian history and played a major role in European history. With the Reformation, Europe was engulfhed in terrible religious wars. Austria was the center of the Catholic Counter Reformation. Austria is primarily associated with the Roman Catholic church, but the coutry's religious history is much more diverse. While Catholics predominate, over tume a spirit of toleration has developed. Tragically, the AZIs destroyed Austria's Jewish minority in the Holocaust.
Christianity was introduced to the Alps during the Roman Empire. With the fall of Rome there was an era of religious flux associatd with the German and Slavic tribes moving west. It is at this time during the Migration Period that Slavs peoples migrated into the Alps and became established there. The Slavs were in part driven west by their the Avars who subjected some Slavic tribes (7th century). The pagan Slavs mixed with the the existing largely Christian Celto-Romanic population in the Alps. (This is a fact that NAZI historians tended to ignore.) For a short period a principality called Carantania controlled much of modern ustria. At the same time, the Bavarians (a Germanic tribe) became established in what is now southern Germany and westen Austria (5th and 6th century). The Bavarians began encroaching on Carantania by moving down the Danube. The Alemans (another German tribe) settled around Vorarlberg.
These groups gradually mixed in the Alps and with the conversion of the German tribes became Christianized.
Austria became an important power as the Hapsburg gained control and eventually came to dominate the Holy Roman Empire as a series of emperors. There were conficts with the papacy that prevented the Hapsburg emperors from converting the Empire into a centralized nation state.
It is in the context of disputes between the princes of the Empire and the Hapsburg emperor that the Reformation takes place in Germany. It was both a religious and political movement. Some German princes embraced the Reformation in opart as a way of further diminishing the Emperor's authority. Thus the Hapsburg emperors who has struggled with the papacy now became the principal defender of the papacy and the Roman Church under the Catholic Counter-Reformation (16th and 17th centuries). The Hapsburg led the struggle within the Empire meaning much of Central Europe. (The Spanish Hapsburgs led the fight in the Low Countries and aginst England.) The result left much of northern Germany predominantly Protestant and much of southern Germany and Austria heavily Catholic. The Hapsburgs succeeded in supressing Protestantism in Bohemia which they also suceeded in acquiring.
After the wars of religion, however, the Austrian Empire and the Autro-Hungarian Empire which suceeded it became religiously heterodox. Austria moved from a mere principality to an empire, in part because Maria Theresa as a woman could not be a Holy Roman emperor. Then Napoleon abolished the Empire altogther. After the Napoleonic Wars, Austria and Prussia vied for control of Germany. After Prussia prevailed, Austria formed the Austro-Hungarin Empire (1867). While staunchly Catholic a degree of religious toleration developed over time. Individual religious freedom was formally enshrined in constitution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867). This meant along other policies the emancipation of Jews. The Austrian Government officially recognized several religious communities: Roman Catholic; Protestant (Lutheran and Calvin); Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Russian, and Bulgarian Orthodox; Jewish; Muslim; and Old Catholic. The modern Austrian state also Methodists and Mormons. While other faihs were tolerated, therelationship between the Austrian imperial state and the Roman Catholic Church continued to be strong, described as the "throne and the altar". Dring the late 19th and early 20th century, Liberals and even more so Socialists advocated more secular policies. The education system in particular was contested by the Catholic and secular elements.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire which played a role in launching World War I was consumed by it. The A much reduced Austrian state declared a republic. One of the issues of the new Republic was the role of the Church. The Republic negotiated a complicated series of treaties (concordats) with the Vatican defining the role of the Church. The Church as a result continued to play major role in Austria. The Church thus became the dividing line in Austrian politics. Catholics tended to support the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei-- CSP). Secular elements tended to support the the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei - SDAP). Catholics expoused a kind of "political Catholicism" and opposed the secular forces and SDAP. Austria was affected by the Fascist movement with followed World War I. The CSP helped create the the authoritarian one-party "Christian Corporate State" (1934).
Hitler seized Austrian with the Anschluss which was supported by most Austrians (1938). Austrian was annexed to the Reich as Ostmark. The Catholic Church in Germany attempted to pursue a policy of accommodation with the NAZIs. It quickly became clear what the NAZIs planned gor Germany and after the War began in the occupied countries. By tis time the Church had little influence both in Austria and Germany as a whole. The NAZIs destroyed Austria's Jewish population, centered in Vienna. The NAZIs planned to gradually de-Christianize Germany and replace it with a new secuar state religion. The NAZI regime was destroyed in the War before this could happen.
The Roman Catholic Church pursued different political policies after the War. It no longer participated so directly in politics by supportng a single political party. One major exception has been the Church's role in the abortion controversy which became a major political issue (1970s). The secular elements also developed more accomodating approaches. The Socialist Party of Austria (Sozialistische Partei Österreichs - SPÖ) which has dominated Austrian politics in the post_ar era has also moderated its view of the Church.
Austria since he early-Medieval era has been mosly Catholic. Most Austrians are Roman Catholic. The 1971 Census indicated ovr 87 percent. Austria has been affected by the secular trends that have affected all of Europe. The 1991 Census indicated that the percentage of Catholics had declined to 78 percent.
The number of Protestants aklso declined. One of Austria's most important minorities were the Jews. There were about 0.2 million Jews in Austria, primarily concentrated in Vienna. They were virtually destroyed in the NAZI Holocaust. The small number of Jews now living in Austria are post-War immigrants. Few Austrian Jews survived the Holocaust and the survivors did not return to the country. Since the War a Muslim minority has developed in Austria. Many are from Turkey and the former Yugoslavia. Austrian authorities are not entirely sure about the Muslim population.
Austria as a largely Catholic country has meant that most boys did a First Communion. We are not entirely sure when this became an important Catholic custom. As more secular believes spread, some families may not have had their children do a First Communion, but we are unsure just how common this was. Children doing First Communion in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were given medals. Some communities had uniformed bands which played when children each years did their First Communion. One vistor reported a beautiful celebration in the SalzburgerLand area. Many Austrian parishes reserve First Communion celebrations for Ascension. The First Communion does continue to be a major event in the lives of Austrian children. It is after First Communion that an Austrian boy can begin to train to be an altar boy. We note one internet posting in 2007, "Zach received his First Communion on Divine Mercy Sunday with four other kids. It was a joyous occasion. He had been working very hard to prepare himself for receiving Jesus. He told me when he received that felt Jesus. God is so good!! Zach has already asked Father Dave when the next altar server training is. He is ready to join his big brother!"
Austrian children when they are about 13 years old do their Confirmations. Austria is mostkly Catholic. In mosrt countries the most important event for Catholic children in First Communion while Lutherans place more emphasis on Confirmation. Lutherans tend to see age 7-8 years when Catholic children do their First Communion as to toung for any one to make a serious religious commitment. The age of 13 is seen as the approximate age at which a young person is capabvle of serious thought. Confirmation became so important in northern Germany because of the large Lutheran that Catholics began giving it more emphasis. There are not very many Lutherans in Austria, but the country is strongly influenced by trends in Germny. Thus many Catholic childer at age 13 years do confirmations. The number of First Communions and Confirmations is about the same in Austria. Tradutionally the youths involved receive a new suit or dress. The boys usually wear dark formal suits. Unlike the younger First Communion children, the girls do not wear white junior wedding dresses.
HBC likes to assess various social customs in different countries because they often are associated with costume and clothing. In Austria, especially in Wien (Vienna) the Firmung is held on Pfingsten
(Whitsun or Pentecost) The boys or girls are entirely re-clothed by their godfather or godmother. They receive a prayers book, a golden arm watch and a balloon. After the ceremony a chariot is driven to the photographer then they visit the Prater. (The Prater is in Wien
where people go for fun and spend money. It's an amusement park. There are Ferris wheels (one being famous) roundabouts, stalls for
sweets, etc.) Finally the day is finished by a large diner. The chariots are usually two horse fiaker (coaches) with white flowered "umbrellas" or cars. One photograph shows two 14-15 year old boys, a blond and a dark haired boy. The blond boy is holding a red balloon. They're dressed in dark suits, as well as their godfather, all of them are standing at the Stephansplatz in Wien. You can see two white flowered fiakers, one of them with two with horses. The photograph was taken on May 17, 1970.
A French reader tlls us that he served as an altar boy in both Austria and France. The experience and the costume he wore was very similar in both countries. While the basic asltar boy costume was set by the Vatican and was the same in different countries, we have noted some Austrian altar boys wearing destinctive costumes. Some looked rather like page boy costumes. I am not sure how common these outfits were. They may been primarily used in a variety of folk events. A HBC reader also mentions the altar boys that wear page uniforms because of the Leonardiritt in Pettenbach. The age is usually set on 14 years, but can be also one or 2 years later.
Austria has a wide range of destinctive religious traditions. Many date from the midieval era. Many Austrian religious cistoms are shared with neighboring regions of Germany and Switzerland.
Leonardiritt in Pettenbach Ritte are mainly held in Austria and Bavaria on the day of the saint. On that day people make a procession around fields and to churches, that bear his name, and bless
horses He is the patron of horses and cattle and is honored on his day. As he is patron of horses, horseshoes are his symbol and are sold on that day. A German reader reports, "I'd like to add to the altar boy section, that on a photo in a book, that was taken November 6, 1977, the altar boys are wearing a pageboy costume. It is red with yellow lines and buttons. They wear a red cap with a plume and white gloves.
Furthermore red trousers and laced shoes. Finally a white collar. They wear this special uniform because, it's Leonhardiritt at Pettenbach in Austria. I'm not sure if this uniform is still worn
The Midieval tradition of Boy Bishops was a common custom throughout Germany and has been revoved in a few churches in recent years. We do not have a separate page on Germany yet, but there is information on Germany in the main Boy Bishop page.
The Ratschenbuben is a primarily German tradition dating from the 12th century. It was also observed in Austria and in German communities in Sitzerland. One HBC reader tells us that "Ratschenbuben" is an Autrian word meaning "rattle playing boys", a word that is unknown in Germany. A German reader, however, reports that "The word "Ratsche" and the custom, to play these instruments during "Karwoche" is not limited to Austria, but also exists in Germany and I think Swizerland, as well." The traditions may vary from region to region and from parish to parish, and is held in Catholic places. At first only boys played the "Ratsche" but nowadays girls also join in. It's the same thing as with the altar boys which are now joined by girls. Note the wheelbarrow-like carts, many boys seemed to have had these. An Austrian source tells HBC that there are Schubkarren-, Walzen-, Kasten-, Hammer- und Flügelratschen (wheelbarrow, roller, box, hammer and winglike Ratschen) However, I don't know how these different "Ratschen" might have looked, but I think the wheelbarrow like carts at are big "Ratschen". An Austrian reader reports seeing the wing like Ratschen once or twice. Also note the man in the cone hat.
Another custom was held on Palm Sunday. A donkey was led by the people in a procession to church. On it rode at first a clergy man, but since these animals aren’t very tame, it was replaced by a wooden sculpture showing the donkey and Jesus. It was drawn by altar boys that had to be very obeying. It is also said that riding on the donkey will be good for their growth. In some regions the ears could be taken apart and were used as money collector. In other sculptures you could open its stomach and fill it either with bread and goodies, which fall apart during procession. It was first mentioned in 970 in Augsburg and was strongly held during the Middle Ages and Baroque era. The person who made the sculpture hoped that his sins would be forgiven. It was common especially in the South of Germany but also in
Netherlands and Belgium and other countries (e.g. Austria, Switzerland, and perhaps elsewhere in Europe). The custom in the 17th century waslargely abolished because it had become out of bounds. Most of the Palmesels were slaughtered by Eselmetzger, that hid up their heads. Fortunately some of them survived and are mostly in Museums now, but there is a place in Bavaria where they still use a living donkey and two in Austria (Thaur near Innsbruck and Puch near Hallein) were they still use a wooden Palmesel in procession.
One reader tells HBC that he was was confirmed at age 18. This was a little unusual.
Normally in the 1950s, a boy serving as an altar boy should have been confirmed by the age of 10. One writer indicates that he had his First Communion at age ? and was confirmed 2 years later. Most boys received their First Communion by age 8.
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