Discovering Protestant Austria


As I travelled around the Ramsau and surrounding area, during our New Year break, I was surprised to see a number of Protestant churches. Now Protestant churches are not a common sight in Roman Catholic Austria and my interest was sufficiently aroused to briefly divert my energies away from my eternal hunt for another good coffee and my interest of that moment – photographing the amazing landscapes.

After a little research involving actually reading some of the local literature, I quickly discovered that I was staying in one of the few thoroughly Protestant communities in Austria. A little further research stirred distance memories of history lessons on the subject of the Reformation and a little internet reading reminded me that this part of the world provided strongholds for both Lutheranism and the Anabaptists. I also discovered that the Ramsau area during the 16th Century had been part of the Salzburg principality which was itself not part of Austria.

The fate of Protestantism in the 16th Century was decided at the Battle of White Mountain on the 8th November 1620 and Protestantism was only legalised in Austria through Joseph II’s ‘Edict of Toleration’ in 1781. It seems that the isolated Ramsau was able to weather the Counter Reformation and ongoing percussion, remaining a Protestant community to this day.

Although H is an Austrian citizen she is also an Anglican. One consequence of this is that she does not attend (Catholic) Religion classes at school. H is delighted to be, in this instance, of the ‘Protestant’ persuasion as it means she finishes school a hour earlier twice a week.  

Approximately 4.7% of the Austrian population are said to be Protestant. According to the 2001 census, 73.6% of the country’s population described themselves as Roman Catholic and a further   4.2% of the population described themselves as Muslim. I recently read a report that 87,000 people left the Catholic Church in Austria during 2010 – membership being a formal process including payments to the Church hence the reporting of ‘resignations’. These figures, the report stated means that 65% of the overall 8.5 million people living in Austria are (formally) Catholics, down from 89 per cent in 1961. It seems with the current levels of exodus and the fact that immigrants to Austria tend not to be Roman Catholic, the percentage of (formal) Roman Catholics in Austria may decrease to below 50 per cent in 20 years.

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