LEGENDS <br> S. OSVALD CHURCH

LEGENDS
S. OSVALD CHURCH

FAITH, TRADITION AND CELEBRATIONS

The church anniversary at the church of S. Oswald in Hafling has a very long tradition. About the history and customs of the deeply rooted fair.

History of the Oswald church 

Between the peaks of Ifinger and Plattinger, at the foot of the Oswaldscharte (gap of S. Oswald), an inconspicuous church with a small tower stands at 1,185 metre above sea level on a small flat alpine pasture. Every year on 5 August, the inhabitants of the communities in the near make a pilgrimage to that small church at Merano 2000 to ask Saint Oswald for protection from storms.

St. Oswald under the Ifinger Peak was first mentioned in a document in 1447, when the farmers of Hafling asked the judge of Tisens for information as to whether the people of Mais (now Meran) were sticking to their grazing rights and not exceeding them in this very place. There were probably already frequent disagreements between the farmers of Hafling and Mais regarding grazing rights.

In 1641, nine Haflinger farmers vowed in the parish courtyard in Mais to have a small church built in honour of St. Oswald and to undertake a procession there every year on 5 August. The parish of Mais was responsible for Hafling at that time. At least one member of each family had to take part in the procession, otherwise they were obliged to pay to the church a pound of wax candles as a penalty.

Until the 20th century, there was another procession at the beginning of summer, as soon as St. Oswald was free of snow. The date varied from year to year and was set for the End of May or in June, depending on the snow conditions.

In 1879, after a lightning strike, the little church was rebuilt on a lower site at its present location. In 1983, the South Tyrolean provincial government decided to place it under a preservation order.

Church Anniversary and fair at St. Oswald

Saint Oswald was and still is venerated as the patron saint of storms. If the peasant population did not comply with this veneration, they were punished with hail and rain and thus with the destruction of the harvest, which practically had to end in famine. So they did everything they could to appease the mighty weather saint. The custom of going on a pilgrimage on 5 August to the little church of Oswald in Meran 2000 in Hafling is still maintained today - and celebrated with a fair including music and entertainment. 

Nowadays, the procession starts at Piffinger Köpfl; in the past, people had to walk all the way from Hafling or Schenna. 

No one can take away our dancing!

Contemporary witness Luis Reiterer reports that in earlier times dancing and entertainment after the church anniversary were a thorn in the side of the parish priest, and he summarily forbade women to take part in the procession from then on.

They complied with the order, but instead of staying in the village, the women waited for the men at the alpine huts near the church to dance and celebrate.

The merry goings-on have always attracted farmers and farmhands from the neighbouring Sarntal valley to the alpine pastures on this side of the ridge.

The legend of Saint Oswald

„In ancient times, when the wood growth went even higher, the site of the church was densely overgrown with alpine rose bushes. Shepherds found an image of Saint Oswald in the bushes. They carried it down to the village of Schenna and placed it in the church there. But no sooner had night fallen and darkness reigned all around, than Saint Oswald rose from the closed church, shining with light, and rode towards the Ifinger, where he was found the following day among the alpine roses. He was brought to Schenna several more times, but each time, as soon as it got dark, he rode off radiantly, for he only wanted to live by the fountain of youth on the Ifinger. Because St. Oswald was found among alpine roses, they are still called Oswald Shrubs in Hafling. The saint is said to have taken great pleasure in them.“
from Iganz Zingerle (ed.): Sagen aus Tirol, Innsbruck 1891

Who was Oswald?

Oswald (604 - 05.08.642) was the first Christian king of Northumbria, the northernmost of the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. He devoted himself entirely to the Christianisation of his homeland on the island. He was considered particularly charitable and founded the famous Benedictine monastery of Lindisfarne on Holy Island in 635, which soon became the centre of Christian missionary activity in England.

Oswald fell in battle against the pagan king of Mercia at the Battle of Maserfelth. Because he died fighting the last pagan kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons, he was considered a martyr and venerated as a saint.

Oswald is the patron saint of the kings of England, of the city and canton of Zug (Switzerland), of knights, crusaders and reapers, as well as the patron saint against the plague and bad weather.

The depiction of St. Oswald

St. Oswald is always depicted with royal robes, the insignia of a king, above him a dove, sun on his chest, very often with a raven or a golden stag.

Legend has it that at his coronation the chrism oil was missing. A raven brought the oil in a precious vessel with a sealed letter that St. Peter was sending it and had consecrated it himself. Another raven brought a ring. This raven also arranged the exchange of letters and rings with the king's daughter, whom Oswald was able to lead home and marry her after a difficult struggle with her pagan father.

How did the cult of Oswald come to Tyrol?

Through the so-called „Scoti monks“, who ended their pilgrimage to Rome in Regensburg in order to found a monastery there, the veneration of the Anglo-Saxon king also spread on the continent, especially in the Alpine countries. The monks, who actually came from Ireland, were called Scoti, as the term „Scoti“ was a general term for the entire Gaelic-speaking population.

Their monastery of St. Jacob in Regensburg became an influential educational centre for nobles, who in turn contributed to the spread of the „new“ saints such as Oswald. In certain regions, St. Oswald was counted among the Fourteen Holy Helpers and is one of the weather saints along with St. Gregory, St. Medardus and the apostles Peter and Paul.

Weather proverb: "Oswald's day must be dry, otherwise grain and wine will be expensive.

Text: Tourist Association Avenlengo-Verano-Merano 2000
LEGENDS <br> S. OSVALD CHURCH
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The alpine scenery at Merano 2000 features picturesque alpine pastures, whose natural cultivation is not only a tradition, but also active landscape conservation.

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