These images show the huge 100kg statues used by villagers in Austria’s Alps to scare off outsiders as part of a bizarre biblical tradition still carried out 300 years after it was first documented as taking place.
The Samson figure was originally created in honour of the biblical character Samson in one of the villages in Salzburg’s Alpine Lungau region. The huge wooden statue was meant to represent Samson who according to the Bible killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an axe.
Local legend has it that in centuries past when locals were under threat of invasion, but with no soldiers of their own, they reportedly hoisted the huge Samson onto their shoulders, and marched to face the would-be invaders.
On seeing the huge figure marching towards them, the enemies reportedly turned around and fled, and so the legend of the Salzburg Samson was born.
Samsons were made to protect many other villages, with the 12 huge Guardian figures located in the villages of Mariapfarr, Mauterndorf, Muhr, Ramingstein, St. Andra, St. Margarethen, St. Michael, Tamsweg, Unternberg and Woelting, and another two just over the border in the neighbouring Austrian province of Styria in the villages of Krakaudorf and Murau.
Samson’s victory and the legend of Samson himself is now celebrated every year in the summer where the 12 huge figures each weighing up to 100 kg are carried by the strongest young men of the village through the town to celebrate the legendary victory.
With each figure over 6m high, it’s easy to see why they stood out as they were carried at the head of the defending villagers. And the earliest document detailing the procession dates back to 1720, meaning the Samsons have been on parade for 300 years.
In 2010 it was even declared a UNESCO heritage symbol of Austria, and to be asked to carry it is always an honour for the lucky bachelors chosen to stand inside the hollowed-out body.
This year with the 300th anniversary the festivities around the Samson Festival are expected to go on for a week, with the high point being the grand parade on 23 August.
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