Chapel carrying at Bad Eisenkappel on the 1st of February and Candlemas on the 2nd of February

by Dr. Birgit Stegbauer


A centuries-old tradition takes place at Bad Eisenkappel on the 1st of February: Candlelit models of the church Maria Dorn, made out of paper and wood, are committed to the floods of the river Vellach while participants constantly repeat "Ante pante, populore, kocle vrate cvile lore". The inhabitants of Bad Eisenkappel thus fulfill a pledge made during a flood in the year 1180, a ritual that is interwoven with customs deriving from Candlemas, a feast of the Catholic Church celebrated on the 2nd of February.


On the evening of the 1st of February, at 6 pm, the children and adults of Bad Eisenkappel gather before the elementary school, many with white and red church model fixed on a stick. They move in a procession towards the main square and the parish St. Michael's, where the miniature copies of Maria Dorn are blessed. Thereafter, the procession continues towards the bridge of Hagenegg castle. Here the little churches are removed from the sticks and placed onto the waters of the Vellach. The river carries the illuminated chapels until they capsize and finally the candles go out.


Bad Eisenkappel, a small market town with a mining tradition located at the foot of the Karawanken mountain range, was regularly desolated by high waters in the past. An extremely critical water level was reached in the year 1180, when the population fled the floods of the Vellach and found shelter in the pilgrimage church Maria Dorn, which is situated above the market of Bad Eisenkappel.


It was then that the people of Bad Eisenkappel pledged to build a wooden, candlelit model of the church Maria Dorn and sacrifice it to the river Vellach, if only to spare their sacred shelter from the raging floods. From the very moment their church model touched the waters of the river, the Vellach started to retreat and since then the chapel carrying is a living reminder of this miraculous event.


However, the saying “Ante pante, populore" is a spoof quote from the exact chapter of St. Luke's Gospel, that is read on the feast of Candlemas, celebrated on the day following the chapel carrying, the 2nd of February. Candlemas not only marks the end of Christmastide, it is a holiday filled with light rituals: It was, and still is, a feast with candle processions and candle blessings in the churches. On that very day the sun shines an hour longer compared to winter solstice, which is why, in earlier times, from this day on supper was served at daylight. Similar to Groundhog Day in North America, there are rural sayings about weather observations on Candlemas:

If Candlemas is mild and pure, winter will long be sure.

If Candlemas brings wind and snow, then spring will very soon show.

But if it's clear and bright, then spring won't come so right.


Even at the beginning of the 20th century, in the rural areas of Austria and Bavaria the "farmhand's year" still ended on Candlemas. The farmhands and farm girls received their yearly pay on the 2nd of February. They could then either renew their job for another farmhand's year or move on to another farm between the 3rd and the 5th of February.


It’s good to know:

Community of Eisenkappel-Vellach

Bad Eisenkappel 260

9135 Bad Eisenkappel

Phone: 04238 - 86 86