Der Riese Samson tanzt  | © TVB Murau-Kreischberg | Mediadome

The Samson of Murau

Once a year, you can see giants waltzing through the streets in and around Murau in Styria. The figure of Samson, escorted by the Murauer Bürgergarde (Citizens' Guard), appears every year on 15 August in the old town. The Samson Parade custom has been around since the 18th century, although it is now only seen in Murau, Krakaudorf and the neighbouring region of Lungau. It won itself a place on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices for Austria in 2010. So what's it all about, and who or what are these giants?


The origin of Styria's Samson

The Samson of Murau originates in the Lungau region. A receipt from the Tamsweger Fronleichnamsbruderschaft (Tamsweg Corpus Christi Brotherhood) in 1746 shows that a Samson figure was sold to Murau for 24 Gulden (guilders). From then on, the custom initiated by the Capuchin monks at the annual Corpus Christi procession was permitted to endure for another forty years or so – until the time of the Josephinian Reforms. In 1784, the Archiepiscopal Consistory forbade people from carrying the figure. But the people managed to dodge this ban rather skilfully: no longer did they carry the giant through the town during the processions, but chose instead the afternoon of Corpus Christi Day or Prangtag (patron saint day) or other special occasions, to the accompaniment of festive music.

 

Biblical Samson

Originally, the custom of the giant goes back to the Biblical figure of Samson in the Old Testament. Samson was a man chosen by God, blessed with incredible strength. He battled against the Philistines and was considered invincible. His power came from his hair, although nobody knew this. But, as so often happens in myth and legend, love got in the way. He fell in love with the beautiful Delilah, whom he also married. She discovered his secret and betrayed him to the Philistines. He was taken prisoner, shorn and blinded – without his hair, he had no power. But gradually it began to grow back, restoring him his strength, which he then used to bring down the Philistine temple. Legend has it that 3,000 Philistines perished, as did Samson himself.

 

The giant of Murau

In 1968, the Samson that we know today was reintroduced by the former chairman of the Murauer Bürgergarde, Mag. Ernst Gasteiger. In Kendlbruck, a town lying on the border between Styria and Salzburg, he purchased a Samson figure that was in sore need of some attention. After comprehensive restoration, the figure was once again able to weave through the streets of Murau that very same year. Still used to this day, the Samson figures weighs 85 kg and is 5.50 metres tall. He makes his "big" appearance every year at the Murauer Samson Festival on 15 August and is accompanied by the Murauer Bürgergarde (citizens' guard) and gun salutes. He is carried by a single man, supported by his "henchmen". The spectator can't fail to notice a very special detail: in his left hand, Samson holds a white object – this is supposed to symbolise a donkey jawbone, with which the biblical Samson is said to have slain 1,000 Philistines.

 

A cultural heritage: Samson Parade

In 2010, the Samson Parade in the Lungau region and the district of Murau even made it onto UNESCO's Austrian list of intangible cultural heritage practices. It is a one-of-a-kind, absolutely legendary experience that you can witness every year in Murau on 15 August.