The question of Religion in Austria and Czech
In Austria today 67% (5,4 mil.) profess to hold the Catholic Faith, in 1951 it was 89%. Historically viewed, the country and its people have been deeply marked by religion. The fact that even the smallest village has at least one chapel with a landscape full of sacral sculptures and crosses is testimony to the significance of religion. Wayside crosses are used to mark a crossroads, a special place in the forest, or field’sedge. They can be made of wood, stone or metal. Stone crosses are also called Hussit Crosses, Swedish Crosses or Expiation Crosses. A Votive cross was a donation as a pledge/vow or out of gratitude for having been saved from sickness, war, the Plague or another life threatening affliction. Weather and Hail crosses were put up following heavy storms and to protect against weather catastrophes. In the Czech Republic 20% of the population consider themselves believers, 46% do not want to determine the God question, and 34% call themselves Atheists. The Communist dictatorship is often held responsible for this high percentage, but it may also be a result of the often hard and unstable history of the country in which the relationship to the powerful, catholic Habsburg neighbours played an essential role. To this history, sacral buildings bear witness on both sides of the border.
Saint Koloman, patron of Austria
Saint Koloman was supposed to have been an Irish prince who was imprisoned near Stockerau and executed while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Legend tells he was a prince and travelling preacher. Due to his foreign appearance on his pilgrimage, people, mistook him for a bohemian spy and arrested him. After being tortured he was hung between two murderers on a scrawny bush. As an executed criminal he was not afforded a burial, but even after some time his body showed no signs of decomposition and several miracles occurred. Therefore, he was buried near the monastery Klosterneuburg where miracles continued to happen. He was then relocated to the residence of the Babenbergers in Melk, and buried on the 13th of October 1014. The day is still being celebrated. From 1244 until 1663 Koloman was patron Saint of Austria ‘above and below the Ennsriver’. Later, he was replaced by Saint Leopold. Koloman is also patron Saint of those condemned to death by hanging, travelers and livestock. He also gives aid in sickness, trouble with the head and feet, during Plagues, thunderstorms, fire, as well as rat and mice infestations. His symbols are those of a pilgrim – hat, coat, staff, flask) and often is depicted with his hand in a sling.
In the centre of the village, right on the marketplace stands a testimony to times long gone – the Prangersäule (pillory column, 1735), with the figure of a warrior who colloquially is called ‘Prangerhansl’. This warrior is leaning on the sword and under him, on the chain, is hanging the prison ball from stone. It was called- executioner column. It gives right to town to do convict´s sentence on the public place. This symbol of discipline gave the town importance and distinguished it from village. All these facts make local people proud, so they hold pillory in high regard. Every unfair merchant, thief, non-payer or fornicator was tied up to column, like a warning for others. Sometimes, the column has small step in the upper half, where the convicted had to stand several metres above the ground. The beginning and the end of sentence was announced by one ring of church bell. The most common punishment was pouring with cold water or to get a hiding. The strictest punishment was execution, the lightest was to be object of public ridicule.