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Legend of the Brother House

by Frießnegger Harald last modified 2007-01-08 12:30

The Bruderhüsle or Brother House is closely connected to the history of the Kristberg and St. Agatha’s Chapel.

When you are at the Kristbergsattel and descend in the direction of Dalaas for a few minutes, you come to the solitary Forest Chapel – the “Bruderhüsle”.

The Forest Brother, Jos or Jodok Erhard lived here at the end of the 15th century.  Since documents also mention his wife Anna, it must be assumed that the settler decided to live after the example of Brother Klaus from Fleue in Switzerland, who, in agreement with his wife, gave up conjugal co-habitation, in order to serve God in solitude.

Jos Erhard built a hermitage and a chapel in honour of the Holy Ghost at the border of the forest.  The Forest Brother lived in close contact to the working miners on both sides of the Kristbergsattel.  The all important connecting path from the Kristberg down to the Klostertal went right past his hermitage.

Even after mining had come to an end, this path was very important to the people from the Silbertal and especially for the inhabitants of Kristberg.

Documents mention that the sacristan of St. Agatha’s was also responsible for the path from Kristberg down to the community of Silbertal.  It wasn’t until 1840 when a street was built from the valley into Schruns that the path lost some of its importance.  In any case, there was a lot of activity going on around the hermitage built by Jos Erhard.  Some demoralized souls also carried their physical and spiritual woes to the hermitage to ask for advice and help.  The hermit had a great influence on the religious life of the miners.  He was the co-founder and main benefactor of the famous Holy Trinity Brotherhood on the Kristberg.

This brotherhood must have had a very large number of members in the whole mining region because it can be read in a memoir that about 350 years ago, 400 members of the brotherhood died of the plague. 

The brotherhood was founded in 1493 on the Monday after the Holy Trinity Sunday.  The Bishop Heinrich from Chur confirmed the brotherhood on November 21st, 1500 after being petitioned to do so by Father Jodok Greber in Silberberg, Father Johann Spitzennagel in St. Gallenkirchen, Brother Jodok Erhard and his wife Anna as well as other citizens in the area.

Out of deference to this Brotherhood, 24 Roman Cardinals issued “St. Agatha’s Chapel on Kristberg” a 100 day indulgence period for the believers that went to the church after remorsefully confessing their sins.

In 1501 St. Agatha’s got its own vicarage through the instigation of the Brotherhood.  The vicarage came under the authority of the rectory in Silbertal.  The chaplain was obligated to say a mass in the Chapel of the Holy Ghost in the forest, which meant in the hermitage of Jos Erhard, once a week.

In his testament from the year 1495, Brother Jos Erhard from Dalaas, living on the Kristberg, declared that in honour of God and the virgin Mary and for the salvation of his predecessors and all of his offspring, and for all of those that had been good to him, that he had built a small chapel and a small house on the Kristberg and that he wanted to stay there and serve God.

„Because the blessed Brothers on Kristberg to St. Agatha, called the Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, thereat began helping to build such a building and the adornments to God that are in it, and only asked for mild taxes and gave a helping hand, in the hope that the laudable charge of the holy mass thereat celebrated, so he testifies and orders, provides and bequeaths, that when he dies and when no-one lives in his house in the forest and serves God like he did, the house and all of the adornments to God in the chapel – his chalice, liturgical vestment, bells, plates and other ornaments – whatever is left, is left to the above named Brotherhood to do with as they see fit.”

It seems that the forest Brother, Jos Erhard didn’t have any offspring.  With the decline of mining so the knowledge and influence of this man slowly disappeared from the memories of the citizens of Silbertal and Dalaas.  The chapel and hermitage fell victim to time and today there are only a few remains left of the main walls and even these are covered in moss and ferns.  

About 150 years ago a vicar in Silbertal found this testament and was very moved by its contents.  So much so that he had a chapel built in memory of the hermit close to where the old hermitage was.

The chapel is called „Das Bruderhüsli“in the local dialect which means the small Brother House.  The people that live in the area made up their own legend about the chapel.

First a note about the Baptism of Still-born children:

According to the parish chronicles from St. Jodok’s parish church in Schruns which was torn down in 1865, under certain circumstances, still-born babies were allowed to be baptised.

A large number of these baptisms took place between the years 1740 and 1780.  Most of these babies were also buried in the cemetery in Schruns.

The death registry for the parish of Silberal also reports that a number of still-born children were baptised in Schruns in the 18th century.  Babies were even brought from Liechtenstein, Tyrol and from the Allgeau in Germany for this purpose.  Similar things also took place in the village of Serfaus in Tyrol.

A steep winding path leads from Kristberg up to the small church of St. Agatha and then down again on the bumpy, narrow, wooded mountain-side trail to Dalaas.  At about the halfway mark stands a small chapel in the solitary quiet of the woods, adorned with a picture of Mary, mother of God.  The chapel is called “Bruderhüsle” or Small Brother House in the local dialect.  Everyone who makes the arduous trek is happy to sit down and rest here at the chapel.

According to legend, the founder and benefactor was a man from Tannberg who died long ago.  The man’s wife bore him a son, but the child was still-born and couldn’t be baptised and this saddened the pious father. 

In those days still-born children were often taken to the church in Schruns in the Montafon and laid on the Josefi altar (St. Joseph’s altar).  Credible witnesses were then called to pray and it often happened that the dead child showed signs of life for a short time. The priest was quickly summoned a baptism was performed.  

The man from Tannberg, full of believer’s faith, told his servant to take the body of the child to Schruns.  The servant probably felt that this was all superstition and only took the child as far as the Dalaas forest where he buried him and then went back.

Once home he told the father that he had put the dead boy on the Josefi altar in Schruns where its lips and cheeks suddenly  began to turn red, a sure sign of life, and then it was quickly baptised and later buried in hallowed ground.

The father was satisfied.

A year later, the man from Tannberg’s wife bore him another son, but like before, this baby was also still born.  This time, it was the father himself that took the body and started out for Schruns in order for his child to be baptised. 

He was about halfway from Dalaas, around the Kristberg when he felt tired and decided to sit down and rest for a while.  As he sat there wiping the sweat from his brow he suddenly thought he heard a voice calling out from under the earth: “Daddy, take me with you, too!”

After a short time, the whining mournful voice called out again.  The man from Tannberg dug in the earth and lo and behold, the unscathed body of the baby from last year appeared which he recognized from a birth mark.  He realized that the servant had tricked him and picked up both bodies and carried them to Schruns.

Once there, his wish came true.  Both bodies of the babies showed signs of life for a short period of time while the devout witnesses prayed and were both baptised by the priest and then buried in the cemetery.

Out of eternal gratefulness and in remembrance of the events, the man from Tannberg had the Bruderhüsle built on the spot where he uncovered the body of his baby and gifted it with a trust fund so that it would always be in good repair. 


P05-3 the legend of the brother house.mp3

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