St. Nicholas Parish Church in Prato Drava/Winnebach

There is no official record as to when the first church was built in Prato Drava/Winnebach. It is however likely that a pre-Romanesque rectangular church hall with a flat wooden ceiling and a small apsis existed since the mid-12th century at the very latest. The comparatively large number of geographical names of Romanic origin such as Patzlein, Jaufen, Parggen, Kantschieden etc. demonstrates the existence of pre-Germanic settlements, even though they tended to be dispersed and not have a joint main toponym.

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During the Middle Ages, new colonies were being established all over Europe and many settlements were expanded by Bavarian colonists, which typically led to the creation of a town or village centre. In the case of Winnebach, the village created at the turn of the millennium was named “furious stream”, from the Middle High German “winnen” meaning raging and “Bach” after the nearby watercourses: The brittle, fissile phyllite origins of the Mittereggerbach, Walderbach and other streams have often exposed the village to severe harm, devastating entire parts of it. Many reminders of this great threat are still evident. The most recent, closed part part of the settlement is located on both sides of an imposing cone of debris – only the church, normally the centre of a settlement, sits atop a panoramic hill.
Not surprisingly, St. Nicholas was chosen as the patron saint of the parish – this saint with an affinity for water is often invoked by places troubled by wild rivers and torrents.
The records first mention the parish church in 1507 – the year in which it was consecrated. It can only assumed that around 1500, the previous, pre-Romanesque church hall was extended according to Gothic architectural tradition. The elegant building with its ogive portal and windows has retained its Gothic look: The ground plan is framed by wall ribs and pilasters, and the slightly re-entrant triumphal arch and polygonal apsis also add to its Gothic feel. Regrettably, however, in 1821 the vault was stripped of its ribs, and all which remains of the original frescoes is the Coronation of Mary and a detail of the legend of St. Nicholas from around 1505. A 17th century architecturally framed epitaph shows the Klettenhammer family, the church benefactors. The paintings in the vestibule (1636) and on the vault (1817) are of a slightly cruder nature.
While very little has been uncovered or in fact remains of the original frescoes, nothing at all is left of the original fixtures: The altars, pulpit and confessionals are from the early 19th century and still reflect a uniform, elated rural Baroque style. Although this particular fondness of all things Baroque still persists today, in the 19th century it was especially pressing, as a local curate recoded in his journal in 1860: “Now we have finally thrown out all this Gothic junk from the dark Middle Ages.”
The late 15th century statue of St. Sylvester is the only older artwork in the church – it is however not part of its original inventory and was only brought here in 1786 from the chapel of San Silvestro in Monte/St. Silvester auf der Alm. A copy of the statue for the chapel was made around 1900 but stolen almost a hundred years later and never recovered. Even if the original Gothic interior is slightly tarnished by the many Baroque ingredients, on the whole this church is a well-looked after, pleasant sight.
A steep path leads up the hill to the church, lined by Stations of the Cross and four wayside shrines showing scenes from the Passion in a rustic, realistic Baroque style: The Mount of Olives, the Flagellation, the Crowning with Thorns and Jesus carrying the cross – a cycle which is complemented by the Crucifixion Group in the cemetery.