Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

The Ram Procession to Obermauern

Applicant: Bürgermeister Ing. Dietmar Ruggenthaler (Gemeinde Virgen), Bürgermeister Anton Steiner (Gemeinde Prägraten)
Province: Tyrol
Domain: Social Practices
Year of inclusion: 2015

The Ram Procession originated during the Thirty Years’ War when the inhabitants of the two East Tyrolean villages Virgen and Prägraten first embarked upon a pilgrimage with a ram to give thanks for the end of a devastating plague epidemic. To this day, the pilgrimage still takes place every first Saturday after Easter, the so-called “White Saturday”. On a alternating basis, the pilgrims from either Virgen or Prägraten bring along with them a festively decorated white ram to the pilgrimage chapel Maria Schnee; following Holy Mass, this animal is raffled off in front of the chapel.

A votive painting in the church of pilgrimage “Maria Schnee” in Obermauern depicts a ram fighting with Death as a personified force, a ram procession, as well as a praying couple with a ram. A painting inscription states the following vow: “Zu der Pestzat nach Labant verlobt von den Gemeinden Firgen Bregraten 1635” (promised during the plague pandemic by the communities of Firgen and Bregraten in 1635) The traditional ram procession therefore originates from the people’s gratitude for being saved from the plague. Today, the procession is still an essential component of the local communities’ identity.

The annual ram procession to Obermauern unites the pilgrims from two East Tyrolean villages, Prägraten and Virgen. One of the two communities brings along a white ram festively decorated with colourful ribbons and flowers. They meet one another in the village of Obermauern. From this point, the two groups walk together to the church of pilgrimage. The procession includes further rituals, for example leading the ram around the altar three times, tying a hair strand on the paschal candle or telling the legend of the battle of the ram with death. Finally, the ram is raffled off after the Holy Mass. Whereas the procession initially helped the communities to overcome the traumatic experiences caused by epidemics, it nowadays strengthens the identity of the local communities.