Salzkammergut lakes region offers adventure and World Heritage culture; if you’re planning an Austria trip this summer, don’t miss the Corpus Christi Day festivities in Hallstatt, highlighted by a floating mass
By Bob Berwyn
Dylan and I nearly fell out of our little rowboat when the ceremonial blunderbuss fired to mark the official start of the Corpus Christi procession on the Hallstätter See. The blast echoed off the steep mountain walls surrounding the lake and scattered the giant blue dragonflies we’d been studying in the reeds at the edge of the lake with our feet dangling lazily in the cool green water.
Switching from lazy Huck Finn mode into overdrive, we paddled over to the line of boats decorated with green tree branches and clumps of wildflowers to join in the procession, part of a floating Catholic Mass that’s been a tradition on the lake since 1628.
“Let’s try to get next to the boat with gun, Dad. Maybe they’ll fire it off again,” Dylan said, getting excited when I told him the town has a club formed specifically for the purpose of setting off loud explosions on various holidays.
At the head of the line was an elaborate floating altar, complete with gold candlesticks and red velvet trim, where the Bishop stood ready to solemnly mark the Eucharist in a ceremony dating back to the thirteenth century, when Juliana de Liege, an Augustinian nun, petitioned Catholic authorities after experiencing a vision in which Christ instructed her to plead for a Corpus Christi feast.
Here on the Hallstätter See, the mass is held on boats simply because the ceremony started long before roads or railroads were carved into the steep glacial canyon walls. The bishop wasn’t about to hike along the steep footpaths to visit the church in each of the villages sprinkled around the lake, so he started to visit his congregations aboard a boat.
The procession is generally held on the third Thursday in June, although it can fall on a different date depending on the full moon. This year’s procession is June 23. Both residents and guests are welcome to join in the mass. Rental boats are available, but come early, they sell out on Corpus Christi Day.
Hallstätter See is one of a chain of lakes, including The Attersee and Mondsee, that formed in Austria’s Salzkammergut region as the giant glaciers of the last ice age melted away. The lakes are still fed by melting ice, but global warming has put the entire system at risk.
At the current rate of melting, some of the glaciers could disappear within the next hundred years with uncertain consequences for the lakes that have been at the heart of the region’s culture for millennia, dating back to a Bronze Age civilization based on salt mining. Based on that cultural and economic heritage, as well as on its rich Alpine ecosystems, the area is designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
If you go:
Dylan and I have visited the area several times, staying at the Seepension Hemetsberger, on the shores of the Mondsee. The family that owns the lodge has been building traditional wooden boats for generations, and the guest rooms are located above a boathouse, directly on the shores of the lake.
Right next door is the Alpenseebad Mondsee, with a well-developed lakeside water park featuring slides, ping pong tables and a friendly café and beergarden. The lifeguards are friendly and the atmosphere is low-key and relaxed, without the obnoxious whistle-blowing and over-nannying that’s the norm at many U.S. water parks.
There are also plenty of opportunities for sailing, boating and waterskiing at various marinas and sport shops in the immediate vicinity.
About a mile down the highway, the Austrian Institute of Limnology studies the ecology of the famed lake region, with a focus on trying to determine future impacts from global warming. The institute is not open to visitors on a regular basis, but holds an open house right around the same time as the Corpus Christi celebration.
The giant Dachstein ice caves are also a must-see during a visit to this part of the world and can be combined with a fine cable car ride and alpine hiking. Click here for all the info.
Not quite as well-known are the narrow alpine gorges that score some of the mountainsides near the Salzkammergut Lakes. One of the most accessible is the Burggrabenklamm on the shores of Attersee.
Filed under: climate and weather, Europe, global warming, Travel Tagged: | Austria, Corpus Christi Day Hallstatt, Hallstatt World Heritage, Hallstatt. Hallstätter See, Salzkammergut, Summit County News, Travel