Erl's oldest landmark
From the basement vault to an architectural masterpiece
Small town, but of high cultural importance. Formerly hotly contested, today most wanted. In the most northern part of the Inn valley nature meets culture, but not only since decades, but centuries.
Approaching Erl from the south, two very impressive buildings appear all of a sudden after the hotel “Blaue Quelle”, one in black and the other one in white. The architecture of both houses has been coordinated as well as the days of performances. Through the dark background of the trees in summer, the white facade of the Passion playhouse is brought into the viewer's focus. In winter, it is the other way round. Then the dark facade of the festival hall emerges from the snowy landscape mystically.
How come that there are two such impressive venues in a small town with nearly 1500 inhabitants?
Mystery or Easter Performances have a long tradition and go back to the Middle Ages. To ward off illness and wars, the people took vows and promised to follow Jesus‘ history of suffering so that the disaster would cease. This was also the case in Erl. As a “border town” Erl was often exposed to great danger, especially when the house of Habsburg waged wars with the Bavarian house of Wittelsbach. Consequently, Erl not only burned down completely several times, but also many important documents were destroyed.
The first attested Easter Performances took place in the mid of the 16th century in a barn, the so-called “Comedihittn” (comedy hut) in the district “Scheiben”. The basement vault still exists. Since Erl was an important pilgrimage destination until its fire in 1703, the pilgrims not only came to the church but also attended the Passion plays. The actors were mainly religious farmers and craftsmen, especially nail makers. At the beginning of the 18th century Erl had 47 businesses, thereof 19 nail makers and 8 blacksmiths. The blacksmiths were gifted theatre players and musicians. They came mainly from South & East Tyrol as well as Bavaria to find work and have shaped the Erl Passion plays sustainably through their participation. One of the most famous nail making masters was Jakob Mühlbacher, long-time theatre director of the Passion plays in Erl during the 19th century. Because of the increasing industrialisation (weapons) und the regulation of the river Inn (blacksmiths worked a lot for shipping), the blacksmithing business came to an abrupt end from the middle of the 19th century. However, there is still a blacksmith in Erl, meanwhile in its 8th generation!
I had to smile when I read about the comparison of the Passion plays Erl with Thiersee: in Thiersee they spoke of the angels, in Erl of the devils . How come?
The devil played a major role in most popular plays during the 17th and 18th centuries. Erl’s actors were most creative in decoration and cloths. That’s why the authorities forbade an appearance to protect children and pregnant women from the consequences of sight.
They performed in many different houses: First in the already mentioned Comidihüttn, then in various houses near the hotel “Blaue Quelle”, on the garret of the hotel Postwirt or in an “amphitheatre” next to the river Trockenbach in the district “Mühlgraben”, where you find today the car park of the Tyrol Festival Erl.
Not far from there rises the impressive 36 m high white building which was built from 1956-1959 with a capacity of 1500 visitors. An extension for offices and a lounge followed in 1996.
In intervals of six years, the next Passion play will take place in 2019. With 600 local participants the Passion is kept alive and up to date.
I hope I could familiarize you with the origin of Erl’s Passion by giving you this historic review and put you into the right mood for attending the upcoming one.
Special thanks to Peter Kitzbichler who has documented Erl’s cultural life meticulously for decades!