BAD TÖLZ, Germany – Despite having to brave a heavy downpour with plastic raincoats that covered their festive garb, the inhabitants of a small town in southern Germany celebrated on Monday the traditional feast of the local patron saint of animals by parading in old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages.
The Leonhardifahrt procession, held each year in honor of St. Leonard of Noblac, has been a staple of the Bavarian village of Bad Tölz – located 46 kilometers (29 miles) to the south of Munich – for centuries.
The epa photographer witnessed the locals, who were wrapped in their best attire in spite of the deluge, begin their pilgrimage at the foot of the Kalvarienberg (“Cavalry Hill”).
They drove in quaint hand-painted carriages sporting wheels which tradition requires must be made entirely of hammer-forged wrought iron instead of more comfortable materials like rubber.
Some 80 carriages carrying mostly women wearing period hats, elaborate jewelry and fox fur stoles took part in the parade, escorted by numerous male horse riders, to the delight of thousands of tourists in attendance.
According to legend, a sacred pagan tree once used stood at the spot on top of Cavalry Hill that now hosts a chapel which – despite being officially consecrated to Our Lady of Sorrows – is commonly known as the “Leonard Chapel” due to it containing a bust of the revered saint.
The beasts and their retinue slowly made their way up the hill to the chapel, where the horses – once indispensable elements of agricultural society – were blessed by the parish priest while revelers drank copious amounts of beer and schnapps.
The town’s first such procession took place in 1722, and it has been a yearly event – with few mostly wartime-related exceptions – since 1855.
A thunderous symphony marked the end of the feast as men cracked their horsewhips in the traditional “Goaßlschnalzen” custom – derived from a pagan ritual intended to chase away evil spirits – performed on Bad Tölz’s famed market street.
The Leonhardifahrt almost always takes place on Nov. 6, except when it coincides with a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on the preceding Saturday.
In 2011, it was exceptionally moved to the following Monday, Nov. 7.
The famous ceremony draws an average of 20-25,000 visitors each year to the Bavarian village, which has a population of about 18,000.
St. Leonhard of Noblac was a Frankish saint from the 6th century AD.
At first considered the patron of prisoners, women in labor and diseased cattle, he was later elevated to the role of protector of animals in the deeply-Catholic region that is modern-day Bavaria.
The Leonhardifahrt has been designated by the state of Bavaria and the German federal UNESCO commission as part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage.