Skip to main content

Who was Andreas Hofer?

Andreas Hofer is still revered by many in Tyrol as a hero today, more than 250 years after his death.

In any case, he is – alongside Ötzi and Reinhold Messner – one of the most famous Tyroleans.
He was born on 22 November 1767 at the Sandhof Inn in St. Leonhard in Passeier and, after a difficult childhood, became captain of a militia company in the Passeier Valley. He rose to the command of the Tyroleans in the battles against the Bavarians, who had occupied the land in 1806, as well as against Napoleon’s troops. In the main battles on the Bergisel mountain near Innsbruck (in part supported by Austrian troops) he three times succeeded in repelling superior enemy forces. On 15 August 1809 he established himself in the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck, where he acted as Regent for two and a half months. On 14 October, in an unexpected turn, Austria was compelled to cede the now re-annexed Tyrol to Bavaria under the Treaty of Schönbrunn. Unable to comprehend this act, Hofer lost the fourth Battle of Bergisel on All Saints’ Day, 1809. In the weeks that followed he paid excessive heed to radical fellow fighters, issuing pointless orders to continue the fighting. The French revenged themselves with terrible retaliatory measures on the local population. At the end of November Hofer fled to a mountain hut, the “Pfandleralm”. Betrayed by a compatriot, he was captured there on 27 January 1810 and first taken to Meran with his son Johann, wife Anna and scribe Kajetan Sweth: he was subsequently brought in several stages to Mantua where, on the orders of Napoleon, he was shot on 20 February 1810 following a mock trial. He did not attempt to flee as he was wedded to the belief that he would have to pay for his actions.

Text: Albin Pixner, MuseumPasseier
English translation: Gareth Norbury
Oberhofer Andreas, Der Andere Hofer. Der Mensch hinter dem Mythos. Schlern-Schriften, 2009.
Rohrer Josef, Heroes & Hofer. When Andreas Hofer came in the museum. 2009.

Andreas Hofer, coloured etching of Johann Georg Schedler, 1809.

Photo: MuseumPasseier

The Court Church

In November 1809, the fourth Battle of Bergisel ended in defeat for the Tyroleans. Andreas Hofer fled and hid with his wife and son Johann in a remote mountain dairy, but was betrayed and captured on 28 January 1810 and taken to Mantua. There he was executed by a French firing squad on 20 February 1810 and buried in the San Michele Cemetery.

In a clandestine operation conducted during the night of 8 January 1823, Andreas Hofer’s mortal remains were exhumed by Georg Hauger, a former comrade-in-arms of Hofer’s, and four other officers of the 1st Battalion of the Tyrolean Imperial Rifles, which had stopped in Mantua on the march home from southern Italy. The priest Antonio Bianchi confirmed the authenticity of the bones. They were placed in an empty ammunition box and taken to Innsbruck with the battalion’s baggage train via Trent and Bozen, where they were transferred to an oak coffin. On the 19th of February the coffin arrived in Innsbruck and Hofer’s bones were interred in the Court Church in a simple church ceremony two days later on 21 February 1823 – thirteen years after his execution – but it was not until the 24th of February that the presence of Hofer’s mortal remains in Innsbruck was announced, and a report on the burial was not published until a month later.

The tomb of Andreas Hofer, erected in 1834.

Photo: Wolfgang Lackner

The Hauger memorial plaque, which is very hidden in the original.

Photo: Tiroler Landesmuseen

In March 1823 it was decided to hold a design competition for a Hofer monument to be located in the Court Church. The well-known artist Johann Nepomuk Schaller, who was a professor at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, was commissioned to create the statue, while the work on the relief for the front panel was entrusted to Joseph Klieber, who also taught at the Academy.

Schaller carved the statue of Hofer from a block of white Lasa marble. The monument was consecrated on 5 May 1834, although the bas-relief depicting Tyroleans swearing the oath of allegiance was not added until the end of November 1837. The statue of Andreas Hofer shows him in traditional costume in stalwart pose with head held high. The black streamer hanging from the standard was added as a token of mourning following the partition of Tyrol after World War I and is still there today.
The mortal remains of Georg Hauger, who died in 1859 and was buried in Vienna, were transferred to the Innsbruck Court Church in 1935 and interred close to Andreas Hofer.

View of the Court Church with the “Schwarze Mander”, behind it the monument to Andreas Hofer. Lithograph by Georg Petzold, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, library.

Photo: Tiroler Landesmuseen
Text: Sonia Buchroithner, Tyrolean State Museums
English translation: Christopher Marsh
Pizzinini Meinrad, Andreas Hofer. Seine Zeit – sein Leben – sein Mythos, 2010.
Forcher Michael, Andreas Hofer und der Tiroler Freiheitskampf von 1809. Ereignisse, Hintergründe, Nachwirkungen, 2017.
Oberhofer Andreas, Der Andere Hofer. Der Mensch hinter dem Mythos. Schlern-Schriften, 2009.