The Hills were Alive with the Sound of Weeping
Later Protestants in Austria
The Holy Roman Empire, stretched from today's Austria to southern Poland and to the edge of
Eurasia. It was a loose federation of mainly German speaking peoples ruled for centuries by the
house of Hapsburg. Because of its diverse territory, the only common bonds within the Empire were
the Catholic church and the sovereign. To keep the Empire intact, both bonds had to be strong.

Small Protestant groups still managed to keep their faith in remote areas of Austria for some time
by means of secret prayer services and meetings, maintaining contact with German Protestant
institutions remotely, and reducing to the absolute minimum their contact to the Catholic Church to
prevent persecution. The existence of such groups who constituted the majority of the population in
areas such as Ramsau am Dachstein, Gosau,and Goisern was not entirely unknown.

Things were horrible for Protestants under the reigns of Emperor Karl VI., and then Empress Maria
Theresa. Protestantism was a crime punishable not only by fines or prison, but by a "briefing" in a
"conversion prison" created to eradicate the Protestant faith. These stations were manned by two
Catholic clerics and were set up in "contaminated" areas. In pesky Protestant leaning Carinthia, for
example, there were 26 such stations, all paid for with church and state money. Particularly stubborn
Protestants were sent to a collective in Linz where they were faced with a choice: either to be
Catholic and be allowed to keep their children, or to stay Protestant and be separated from their
children (who were taken and educated in Catholic monasteries) and then be "transmigrated" to far
away regions such as Siebenbürgen in Transylvania. From Carinthia alone, 1,031 people were in this
manner transmigrated on ships to Transylvania, and in the years from 1752 to 1756 more than 30%
of "transmigrated" Protestants died.
 

In 1781, Emperor Joseph II issued an "Edict of Toleration"  which granted freedom of worship in the
realm, regardless of religion. He seized some Church holdings and used the money garnered from the
sale of Church lands to benefit the state, and even took over the salaries of the Catholic clergy whose
hierarchy would first be required to take an oath of allegiance to the state. He modernized Austria's
domestic and foreign policies. He abolished serfdom in Austrian lands and eliminated the law stating
that only the nobility could acquire estates, which resulted in changes to social structure. He
reworked the antiquated criminal justice system based upon the concept of equality for all before the
law, and he offered state assistance to the poor for legal expenses. He instituted a fair school system
and agricultural reforms. Joseph Schaitberger's Sendbrief would, however, remained banned, and it
was cleverly retitled "Devotional Book for Protestant Christians" to circumvent this ban.

Despite his good intentions, he had problems in the Hungarian dominions, Italy, the Balkans and
Czech and Polish lands with independence movements and fermenting nationalism. Since 1715, the
Hapsburgs also governed Belgium and a portion of the Netherlands, and Belgium was now suddenly
declared independent. In France, the regime of Louis XVI and Joseph's sister Marie Antoinette was
unraveling in 1789. It was all too much for Joseph, and his health began to fail. By the end of the
year, he was dead.

Even after Emperor Joseph II adopted the toleration patent, it was not exactly easy to be Protestant
and it was still far from freedom of religion. According to the patent, every Protestant had to go
before a church-state Commission to explain his Protestant faith and provide detailed reasons for his
objections to the Catholic religious and secular authorities. According to the new rules, in a place
where 100 families (or 500 people) lived, a Protestant community could be founded and a church
could be built, but off the road, without a tower and bells, without sacred elements and a cross and
without continuous windows or an apse. A "pastor" could be selected, although the title "pastor" and
the words "church" were only reserved for the Catholic Church and anyone who wanted to become
a Protestant pastor had to undergo some compulsory training with the Roman Catholic village priest
and get his approval first.

After the Edict of Tolerance in 1781, Protestant groups formed small new congregations in Lower
Austria and Styria, with the remaining 46 congregations in Upper Austria and Carinthia. In Vienna,
privileged groups attended religious services in chapels belonging to foreign Protestant diplomatic
missions and it was out of these groups that formed today's Protestant Church in Austria.
The Last Expulsion
The last Protestant expulsion from Austria took place in 1837 in Zillertaler in Tirol. Trouble began on
St. Stephen's day, 1829 when men came to the priest and declared they wanted to be Lutheran,
reaffirming their appearance with fist blows on the table. This was unexpected but not without
precedent since there had always been many "invisible Lutherans" in the local Catholic church.

If discovered, they received no Christian burial, but instead were buried outside the cemetery on the
field or on a farm. This time the church was sick of it all, and 427 local Protestants called "inclinants"
were forced to leave due to a loophole in the Toleration laws. Only seven of the Inklinanten returned
to the Catholic faith and only eight remained in Austria.
  Names & Fates of the Zillertaler Exulanten

Financial problems and unfavourable laws against conversion and mixed marriages kept the
Protestant Church in Austria insignificantly small. Protestants could not even hold public office until
1848. It did not obtain equal legal footing with the Catholic Church until the Constitution of 1849 and
the Imperial Decree on Protestantism of 1861.  There was some growth in the Protestant Church
after 1870, however the Reichsvolksschulgesetz of 1869 restricted Protestant schooling for a long
time. It was not until 1961 that the Austrian Parliament passed the "Protestant Act," in which the
Evangelical Church in Austria enjoyed all of the necessary freedoms of their faith, including the
establishment of a Protestant theological faculty, an annual federal subsidy, attendance at all hospitals
and prisons, military chaplains and free choice of all pastors.

The decline of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy decreased the size of the Lutheran Church, and the
political circumstances of the time and German influence strengthened many Protestants´ belief in the
desirability of union with Germany. After 1945, the arrival of Protestant refugees cast out of stolen
German lands resulted in the creation of new congregations, and new churches strengthened the
church until 1965 when it was given a stable legal basis by the Church Constitution of 1949 and the
Federal Act on the External Legal Relationships of the Protestant Church. In 1968, the Church
recorded (at its height) more than 425,000 members, but since then, membership has diminished.

In the 2001 census of Austria, membership in major religions was as follows: Catholic 74.0 percent;
Lutheran Church 4.7 percent; Islam 4.2 percent;  Eastern Orthodox 2.2 percent; other Christian
churches 0.9 percent; other non-Christian religious groups –0.2 percent. Atheists accounted for 12
percent; 2 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation. Somewhat higher percentages of Protestants
than the national average live in the provinces of Carinthia and Burgenland, as the Counter-
Reformation was less successful in those areas. The number of Muslims is higher than the national
average in Vienna and the province of Vorarlberg, due to the higher number of workers from Turkey
in these areas. Only about 17 percent of Austria Roman Catholics actively participate in formal
religious services today.

Before World War II, most Austrians considered themselves culturally "German," not a distinct
ethnic identity. Today, in the aftermath of severe Allied "re-education" programs, that has become a
politically incorrect notion. Polls indicate that no more than ten percent of the German-speaking
Austrians see themselves as part of a larger German identity linked by blood, culture and language.
A grand palace was erected in 1736 on the shores of a large private "pond" in the area between the
palace and the Untersberg which served as a family estate. He Christened the palace Leopoldskron
and filled it with expensive treasures. After the death of the Archbishop in 1744, his heart was buried
in its chapel, while the rest of his body was placed in the Salzburg Cathedral. He had previously
passed his palace on to his nephew Count Laktanz Firmian in May 1744, who used it to house a vast
collection of over 600 valuable paintings which included works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Titian, Dürer
and others.  In addition, Count Laktanz was one of the first patrons of Leopold Mozart and his son
Wolfgang Amadeus. After the Count's death in 1786, Laktanz’s son, who had no taste or
appreciation for art, lent out some paintings from his father’s collection which were never returned.
The palace remained in the possession of the Firmian family until 1837, and there were frequent
changes in the palace’s ownership afterward, culminating in the loss of nearly all objects of art.

The Schloss was later sold to the owner of a local shooting gallery, and it passed through various
hands in the nineteenth century before ending up in the possession of Europe's most famous theater
director, Max Reinhardt, who bought the Schloss in 1918 and revitalized it. In 1938, the Schloss was
confiscated as a national treasure. In 1945, the Schloss was returned to the Reinhardt estate and
evolved into the "Salzburg Seminar", eventually becoming a "center for intellectual exchange in the
heart of Europe" which is now a " global forum". The Salzburg Seminar purchased Schloss
Leopoldskron in 1959, and in 1973 purchased and renovated the adjacent Meierhof, a part of the
original Firmian estate. Scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed there.
Shortly after Count von Firmian had enriched himself in the process of expelling the Protestants,
his family’s reputation was impacted negatively, and he commissioned  Scottish Benedictine monk
Bernhard Stuart to design a rococo-palace as a prestigious family residence in an effort to restore the
family’s social standing. Views of the "Palace built of Tears" in the shadow of Hohensalzburg, below
THE SALZBURG EXILES