St. Kathrein Kirche Church in Hafling - Digital church tour
The little church high above Meran on the mountain plateau of Hafling, Vöran and Meran 2000
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St. Kathrein Kirche Church in Hafling - Digital church tour

The little church high above Meran on the mountain plateau of Hafling, Vöran and Meran 2000

Even today the village of Hafling/Avelengo is divided colloquially into “Enderbach” and “Hiegerbach” (that side and this side of the Rio Sinigo stream). In the Middle Ages churches were built on both sides, both of which still exist today: the Parish Church of St. John in Hafling Dorf village and the St. Kathrein Church in the eponymous parish.

Records show that the St. Kathrein Church was consecrated as long ago as 1251, meaning that the building dates back to the second quarter of the 13th century. Reputedly there was an earlier pagan place of worship here in the Sulfner area, and in 1202 a chapel is supposed to have burned down, whereupon this new, Romanesque church was built.

St. Katharine
The church is dedicated to St. Katharine, who, among other things, is the patron saint of carters. Since, until the opening of the new state road in the 1980s, it was only possible to access the valley along the old “Haflinger Weg” track (no. 2B) past the St. Kathrein Church, she was believed to protect the people and their goods (animals, wood and food were often transported).
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Left: The old Haflinger Weg track near St. Kathrein. | Right: Strikingly large blocks in the bell tower.

Stone on stone

The little church was built using various types of rock, but mainly sandstone from Val Gardena and quartz porphyry from Bolzano/Bozen. The size of the blocks used is striking, since they measure up to 180x40x35 cm and consequently must have been cut in the immediate vicinity of Hafling.

In some places granite was also used – the type of rock of which the Ifinger, the local mountain, consists -, however only in small quantities, as, in comparison with sandstone, it is very hard and can only be worked with a great deal of effort.
Over the course of the centuries several changes have been made to the church – for example in the late 14th century the western façade was covered with frescoes, whilst the bell tower in its present form dates back to the late Gothic architecture of the 15th century. With its sandstone blocks it is a particularly special feature, and in 1999, alongside the façade, underwent extensive restoration.

Fine lines

In the church vestibule, originally protected by a porch, the glance immediately falls upon the especially fine, medieval linear-style frescoes that date back to the period between 1360 and 1370. They depict the capture, martyrdom under a breaking wheel and subsequent beheading of the church’s patron saint, Katharine. The vestibule itself was only built in the late 19th century and the southern tower dating from the Romanesque period was relocated here afterwards.
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The frescoes in the vestibule depict the martyrdom of the church’s patron saint, Katharine.

Artistic Interior

The artistic and liturgical highlight of the interior is the winged altar in the 15th century Gothic apse. The impressive shrine was completely repainted in 1875. Its wooden sculptures date from the late Gothic period and depict the patron saint of the church, St. Katharine, between St. John the Baptist and St. Mary Magdalene. The painted wings show St. George on the left and St. Martin on the right. On the retable dating from the 17th century are Mary with the Christ Child in the middle and St. Barbara and St. Oswald.

The main figure on the lovely side altar from the 17th century is St. Sebastian. The two side statues, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Elizabeth of Thuringia, date from another period. Also dating from the 17th century are the two imposing statues to the left and right of the triumphal arch, St. Florian and St. Rochus, and the chancel, with its elegant ornaments and small, open pediments. A relief on the northern nave wall again depicts the beheading of St. Katharine.
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View of the chancel with St. Florian (left) and St. Rochus (right) on the triumphal arch, the winged altar and the retable with St. Barbara, Mary with the Christ child and St. Oswald.

Along the way

To the north of the church is a small wayside shrine, the construction of which it has not been possible to date precisely. In 2000 it was equipped with a new wooden roof in the same style as the original. From the frescoes it may be inferred that it is probably one of the oldest wayside shrines in the region and was painted in around 1400 by the Meran School.

Its location on the old Haflinger Weg track (No. 2B) explains its function: older Hafling residents can still remember today that until around 1950 anyone going to Meran/Merano would stop in front of the shrine and recite the Lord’s Prayer. To begin with the crucifixion group in the centre stands out, which is surrounded by various saints: to the right St. Katharine as the patron saint of carters, St. Wolfgang as the patron saint of carpenters, shepherds and woodcutters, and Abbot Anton. To the left is St. Leonard as the patron saint of cattle, and St. Vigilius and St. John, in reference to the parish churches in Obermais/Maia Bassa and Hafling Dorf.

Why not stop for a while and imagine how difficult the descent and subsequent ascent must have been - often loaded with heavy purchases or together with animals and wood.
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The crucifixion group in the centre of the picturesque shrine.

According to legend ...

...the little St. Kathrein Church was built at the same time as the church in the nearby Langfenn near Mölten/Meltina. The builders were two giants, who, however, only had one hammer between them. They agreed to share it by throwing it to one another over the Tschögglberg mountain ridge. When, one day, the Hafling giant did not return the hammer, the Langfenn giant became angry and threw a gigantic boulder at the St. Kathrein Church. Luckily, he missed his target, but the boulder still lies there to the present day, not far below the church in the meadow by the Sulfner.
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Just missed: the gigantic boulder still lies in the meadow in front of St. Katharine’s Church today.

The romanesque road

The regularly layered walls of the nave, the flat ceiling, a small, walled-up arched window on the southern side and another walled-up original entrance have been preserved from the Romanesque period during which the church was built.
The St. Kathrein Church is part of the so-called Alpine Romanesque Road, which runs from Burgeis/Burgusio in the Upper Vinschgau Valley through the Etschtal Valley to Termeno and links Romanesque artistic and cultural monuments with one another. Its intention is to make them better known and prevent their picturesque style from only being known to insiders.
If you want to know more about Romanesque structures in the area, the book, “Aussichtsreich: Erlebnisse rund um die Alpine Straße der Romanik” by Marlene Lobis is well worth a read (German and Italian only). Available from the Hafling-Vöran-Meran 2000 tourist information office.

This backdrop ...
...with the romantic little church and breathtaking views of the Merano valley basin consistently captivates numerous people. The St. Kathrein Church is a popular place for holding weddings and festivals: year in, year out couples from near and far say “I do” here. The traditional Hafling church fair is celebrated every August, on the Sunday after the Feast of the Assumption (15.08), in this idyllic spot.


Sources:
» Theresia Egger Singer
» Franzen C., Laimer M., Stampfer H. (2000) in Messerschmitt Stiftung München (Hrsg.), St. Katharina in der Scharte in Hafling. Lana, Italy: Tappeiner AG
» Lobis M. (2020) in IDM Südtirol (Hrsg.), Aussichtsreich: Erlebnisse rund um die Alpine Straße der Romanik (S. 132-137). Bolzano, Italy: Athesia-Tappeiner Verlag
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