St Michael im Lungau:
Mountains, Skiing & Bizarre Folklore
The small town of St Michael in Salzburg′s most remote district Lungau is a popular base for hiking vacations. In terms of sightseeing, there are a few of the obligatory sights that one can find in pretty much any Austrian village in the Alps: A parish church, a small church of pilgrimage and two smaller churches - alongside with some pretty houses, embraced by the Tauern Mountains. However, most visitors come for the traditions of the St Michael - in particular the "Samson Procession".
Samson is a giant figure that is carried around by the young men of the village, usually on Corpus Christi. There are several theories where this custom originates from - and whether or not it is connected to similar traditions from Belgium and Catalonia. Most theories connect the Samson figure to the Biblical Samson - however, some sources consider it more likely that it is a pagan tradition from the days when the Lungau area was under Slavic rule. The Slavic Samson is said to be the image of a god that would awake the spirits of fertility in the grounds. A third version says that it might be connected to an epic tale of a knight named Samson.
In any case, the procession is now more popular than ever - which has not always been the case. In the 16th and 17th century, communities like St Michael turned Protestant. In response to this, the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg founded new monasteries in the process of what is now called the "counter-reformation".
The Origin of St. Michael′s Samson-Action
From these monasteries, new traditions developed: The monks incorporated the old-style Samson into a display of Biblical figures in order to educate people about the Bible and to underline the significance and importance of the Catholic Church. Later, during the age of enlightenment in the 18th century, the Samson processions were considered to be artefacts from pagan days and banned by the Prince Archbishop.
Only in the 19th century, the Lungau people re-discovered the tradition of Samson and places like St Michael now make the procession an event with quite an economic significance with respect to summer tourism. The oldest record of the St. Michael Samson dates back to 1754.
A bit more on the history of St Michael and the Murtal region in the Lungau: The oldest settlements are Illyrian; in the 4th century BC, Celtic tribes started to populate the area. Both ethnicities mingled and merged over the course of the following centuries. The Romans gradually gained control over the area, but never replaced the predominant Celtic-Illyrian population.
More on St. Michael & What to See there
In the 5th century AD, Slavic tribes arrived from the area of today′s Styria. Approximately 200 years later, Bavarians from the North pushed the Slavic population back and finally stayed. Nevertheless, many names of villages and even surnames still point at the Slavic heritage of the Lungau. For example, the name "Stranach" refers to a hamlet of St Michael and is of Slavonic descent.
In the 13th century, St Michael became part of the - fairly new - principality of Salzburg. In the 18th century, a court was opened in St Michael, which underlined the significance of the town as an administrative centre. Today, the town′s economy largely depends on transportation, tourism and agriculture.
Attractions nearby include all sorts of really high mountains. Otherwise, you will have to spend quite some time in a car to get to Radstadt, Bad Hofgastein and Bad Gastein in Salzburg; or you go even further to Zell am See. Once you are in Radstadt, Schladming is not far. Moving to Carinthia, you can get to Gmünd. On the Styrian side, you can travel along the Murtal River valley. After a fairly long drive, you will get to Oberzeiring and Oberwölz and - even further - the town of Judenburg.
Back to: "Salzburg Sightseeing Guide"