Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Wreath Riding in Weitensfeld

Applicant: Max Strohmaier
Province: Carinthia
Domain: Social Practices

The tradition of Kranzelreiten [Wreath Riding] in Weitensfeld, practiced annually at Pentecost, is divided into two parts. On Whit Sunday, the wreath riders (Kranzelreiter) ride from house to house accompanied by singers who sing G’stanzl (humorous four-line dialect songs) about the events of the past year, and they utter a personalized cheer for the residents of each house, who provide them with food and drink in return. This ritual is also the invitation to the actual Kranzelreiten event, which follows on Whit Monday. It is a competition that begins with the riders racing their decorated horses, galloping three times between the upper market square and the market fountain to symbolise the vanquishment of the plague outbreak associated with the tradition’s origin. Afterwards, the focus turns to three runners, who race each other. The winning runner then rides the winning horse to the market square fountain and kisses the statue of the steinerne Jungfrau [Stone Virgin] that stands at its centre. As a prize, he receives the Virgin’s wreath (the Kranzel) and a silk scarf. The second-placed competitor receives a myrtle bouquet and a woollen scarf, and the competitor in last place receives a bunch of hog bristles and a calico scarf. Each winning runner then passes on his prizes to his girl of choice. Finally, they all dance a waltz known as the Jungfrauenkuss or Gurktalerwalzer, which concludes the Kranzelreiten event itself and kicks off the celebration that follows.

The present-day form of Kranzelreiten is a cultural event embedded in the exuberant atmosphere of a day-long festive celebration. Alongside the riders, the runners, and their chosen women, this event’s organization and conduct also involves groups such as traditional costume associations, brass bands, rural youth organizations, and volunteer fire companies.

Oral sources indicate that Kranzelreiten came into being during the 16th century, after the plague had wreaked havoc on Weitensfeld. The four survivors of that plague outbreak were the damsel of the castle Thurnhof and three burghers’ sons. In order to choose her groom, the damsel held a race—the winner of which she would permit to marry her. Kranzelreiten thus arose as a way of commemorating this situation. The oldest written description of the event is from 1814. And over its centuries-long history, Kranzelreiten has been subject to several changes—1891 saw the addition of the invitation ride at Pentecost, for example, and this ride’s musical accompaniment was added in 1914. This tradition’s core element, however, remains the competition. Its winner is awaited by the “kiss of the Stone Virgin”, the statue that serves as the Kranzelreiten event’s mascot, as a reward. The Stone Virgin sits enthroned atop the fountain on the market square, festively decked out for the occasion with a white gown, a red sash, and a bridal wreath. In her left hand, she holds a keyring, and in her right she holds a peony.