Posted by: Nazausgraben | April 1, 2010


Our first Good Friday (Karfreitag) in Pinswang…the most solemn of all days of the year. It is on this day that Christians recall the events of the Passion and crucifixion of Christ; the day he is sealed into a tomb…the day that those who had crucified Him believed that they were now rid of both He and His followers. They did not understand that this was but the beginning.

Tiroleans and their neighbors in Bavaria look upon this day with great reverence and respect. It is a day of quiet reflection and deep introspection….the culmination of the 40-day Lenten period.

Karfreitag this year in Pinswang is white…a Spring snow coats the surround. Snowmen grow where there should be spectacular flowers in bloom; the children are sledding rather than maneuvering their bicycles around cow landmines strewn about the Via Claudia….the wash is drying within, rather than pinned to lines and wafting aloft, in the soft succulent April breezes. Tussled locks, torn bluejeans and short sleeves will come later; for now, we are sealed and packed…thickly scarved, gloved, booted and hooded securely within our arctic survival gear. Still, it is Karfreitag; penance and forgiveness are in the air  and any complaints about the  fishwrap newspaper having once again misread the meteorological charts are set aside.

Preparations for the coming Easter Sunday are well underway; brooms and mops swing with the power of scythes and dust abounds…the air resonates with the cymbal sounds of metal dust pans clanging and is thick with the room corner detritus that has been inhaled steadily since October. One shudders as the sun rises over the nearby Sauling mountain; its long yellowish rays briefly illuminating the universe of gossamer strands of dirt, lazily seeking out the slightest air be propelled into ones eyes, ears, noses and mouths…especially during the deepest darkest hours of the snoring night.

The Spring cleaning counterattack currently underway is designed to undermine even the most determined airborne clot. Windows are open and the icy biting winds are being exploited…entering from the west and blowing Winter’s dust piles turbine-like out through windows on the eastern side. Doors are quickly opened to broom out a hill of dust and are just as quickly slammed shut against the now falling wind-driven sleet and snow.

Many a Pinswang Hausfrau and child retreat to warm kitchens, where Easter cakes (Osterkuchen) and pretzels take form atop the metal and ceramic-tiled wood-burning stove (Kachelofen); a marvelous construction with which one can not only cook the holiday ham, but warm the entire first floor of the house at the same time. The heat from the burning wood is directed not only up to the metal stovetop, but through the tiles that form the stove body. It is akin to having an enclosed fireplace in the kitchen.

Eggs are boiled and set aside to cool. They will soon be painted and hung by the thinnest strands from the pussy willow branches that adorn large flower pots throughout the house. Some of the eggs will be placed in a bowl on the table. Those sitting about the table will take an egg each and proceed to wreak havoc. They hold the ‘ends’ of each egg aloft and with the slightest force, ram them into each other. Invariably, the shell of one egg or the other will crack and break apart. The unscathed survivor is considered the winner and returned to the bowl. The unfortunate loser of this hard boiled joust will be denuded of the remain shell bits and unceremoniously devoured. And so it goes until Tony’s hens run dry; refusing to watch the fruits of their labors reduced to shards and flakes of yellow yoke on the floor.

St. Ulrich’s Church (Ulrichskirche) has also been thoroughly cleaned; the ancient wood and stone that form the floor are devoid of scuffs and scrapes. The wooden pews have been dusted clean and the Gotteslob (prayer and hymn books) neatly arranged. Yet, there is something new that has been erected where the altar usually resides. At first glance, it appears to be a nativity scene, not unlike what one sees during the Christmas season here. However, a closer look reveals that it is nothing of the sort. This is a Heilige Grab…a Holy Grave (Tomb) scene. That which stands in the Ulrichskirche  was constructed early the day before; on Maundy Thursday (Gruen Donnerstag).

A Heilige Grab is a large, usually wooden multi-panel tableau that depicts the story of the Passion of Christ, His crucifixion , burial in the tomb and then resurrection (Auferstehung).  Such Heilige Grab can be seen throughout the Tirol and Bavaria; some are basic and reflect simple folk art (Volkskunst) style; others are more elaborate and have been painted by gifted artists. Treasured Heilige Graber were created as long ago as the 17th and 18th centuries.

After the free-standing (Volks) alter is moved away, a wooden plank frame is erected that covers most of the floor in front of the permanent altar. The dimensions vary (depending on the size of the Church), but generally such frameworks are approximately 10- or more feet tall and stretch across the entire width of the Apse or Sanctuary. The wooden planks and cross-beams are stabilized and secured together using wooden ‘nails’ that are driven through holes in the planks. Once this is done, large thick wooden boards cut in various shapes and sizes are fastened to the frame. They form the floor and multi-layered facade. Each board is painted, depicting parts of a background scene, buildings, stairways and other structures.

The boards mounted onto the ‘back end’ of the frame (closest to the permanent altar) represent the background, and inside of the tomb. The next layer of boards (about 2-feet forward from the background layer) depict structures mid-way toward the tomb. The layer staged nearest to the pews shows the entranceway to the tomb. There are glass globes filled with colored oils mounted around facade arches and on the floor. These are illuminated from behind by small candles creating a spectre glow. The entire scene is bathed in spotlights mounted above and behind the various layers. When viewed from an oblique angle, one sees merely various layers of painted boards. However, when viewed from the pews looking toward the Sanctuary, one appears to be viewing a multi-dimensional scene, complete with perfect perspective…gazing into Christ’s tomb. The combination of perspective and illusion create a visual effect that is quite remarkable and convincing.

That which graces the Pinswanger Ulrichskirche was built and painted  approximately 171 years old, in 1839. It depicts a large 15th century gothic entranceway leading to a tomb.

The lower panel on the left shows an arched colonnade receding into the background. The upper portion of the panel shows Christ being judged. The right side upper panel depicts Christ being scourged. The lower panel shows a similar colonnade scene with columns. The largest panels are the centerpiece leading, via faux perspective, to the tomb entrance. Here one see a large painting on canvas showing Jesus praying in the Garden of Gesthemane. On Gruen Donnerstag and the start of Karfreitag, the entrance of the tomb is covered with this painting of Christ still alive. However, during the Karfreitag Mass, the painting is removed to reveal a painted recumbent Jesus in the tomb.  This will remain in place until late Saturday night, when a painting of Jesus arisen will be displayed. A large cross stands atop the structure shown in the center panels. Roman soldiers stand guard on the floor in front of and at either side of the Sanctuary.

Church bells are not rung, nor is the organ played at Mass on Karfreitag, all fall silent as the events of The Passion take place. Indeed, the bells of St. Ulrichskirche ceased to toll the evening before during the Gruen Donnerstag Mass when the Last Supper was remembered. Legend has it that during the Grun Donnerstag Mass, all church bells  ‘fly to Rome’…an allusion to the stillness and solemnity of this start of the Passion. They (along with the organ) return on Easter to celebrate the Resurrection.

In the meantime, as the bells are not rung, there are substitutes that are ‘sounded’ on Karfreietag during those times that the bells normally do toll. These devices are called ‘Karfreitagsratscher’  (Good Friday ratchets). Such ratchets come in many forms and date back more than 500 years (perhaps even further). They are fairly simple devices; gears mounted on sticks that are connected to pieces of wood that rotate about the gears. When an individual holds the wooden slat and gear aloft and turn both, the rotating wooden slat slaps against the fixed gear, and a loud rapidly clacking noise is produced.

Ratchets can also consist of thick wooden dowels attached to a handle (crank). Short wooden pegs are hammered at irregular positions into the dowels. The handle and dowel are mounted on the edge of a wooden box, atop which are set long slender wooden slats. These are fixed at one end and are permitted contact with the dowel pegs on the other. When the handle is cranked, the attached dowel turns and the pegs push the wooden slats,  causing them to slap back onto the wooden box as the pegs pass by. In doing so, the slapping noise that results creates quite a ‘racket’ indeed; a loud, edgy harsh pointedly unappealing sound. One large very old Karfreitagsratsche at Pinswang’s Ulrichskirch has wooden mallet heads attached to the fixed

Ancient Karfreitagratsche at the Ulrichskirche

wooden slats. Thus, instead of creating a slapping sound, the mallet heads slam hard against one side of  the hollow wooden box to which they are affixed, thereby creating a remarkably loud banging noise. When cranked at speed, the violent percussive sound can be quite startling .   

So it is on this most solemn of days and nights. Guests from afar have already arrived and all is prepared. The mourning begins, as does the waiting. Before heading off to Church in the evening, some discuss the celebrations to follow on Sunday. Others have a light final meal before the period of fasting and abstinence begins. There are also fleeting references made to the troubles currently afflicting The Church. That they have come to a toxic gutter media-based head; into the glaring all-too-easily influenced public eye at this time is no coincidence.

Thus, it is in this most Holy Week, where all should be attuned to the solemnity of death and resurrection, that we see the ancient story of the Passion once again being played out; the irrational mob pounces on the innocent; unrelenting chastisement beleaguers the lamb; the calls for crucifixion and blood rage hotly. They wish to bring down and turn to ashes the very entity to which they should be turning in this time of such discord.

Forgive them, Father…for they know not what they do.

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