Abbey Cathedral of Saint Gall

Abbey Cathedral of Saint Gall

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Abbey of St. Gall

The foundation stone for the abbey was laid in 612 by the Irish itinerant monk Gallus. A good 100 years later, Abbot Otmar revived the monastery and transformed it into an important centre for writing activities and book illumination. The spirit of the Benedictine monks can still be felt in the historically impressive walls today. The Abbey Library of St Gall, also known as the pharmacy of the soul, has what must be one of the most attractive rococo halls in Switzerland. Besides the 170,000 books, it also accommodates one of the most important autochthonous collections of medieval manuscripts in Europe. The Plan of St. Gall, the &ldquoEvangelium Longum&rdquo and the oldest conserved German language book, the &ldquoAbrogans&rdquo, are particularly worthy of note. Cultural Heritage since 1983.

World Heritage Days

Plan your visit


Without its convent, the town of St. Gall would not exist. A vulnerable position far away from any major crossroads is not a likely setting to establish a city. But what the Irish monk Gallus was actually looking for in 612 was a secluded place for a hermitage. He found it in the upper Steinach Valley. The Benedictine abbey hat developed from this humble retreat was to become not only one of the most renowned centres of art and knowledge in Europe, but also a very influential religious state. In fact, a visit to the convent of St Gall is a must for anyone interested in the early Middle Ages since its archive has the largest collection of Carolingian documents and its library the probable richest collection of manuscripts, incunabula, and books from that period. The remarkable architectural complex we see today &ndash a masterpiece of baroque art in its own right &ndash shelters the heritage of more than 1,200 years of religious and cultural history.

The abbey and school founded by Saint Otmar around 720, where Saint Gall had lived as a hermit, were modest. It soon grew however to become a place of highest importance thanks to properties bequeathed for the salvation of souls but also as a result of strong political links with the Carolingian and Ottonian courts. Emperors and kings were regular guests in St. Gall. Entirely in line with the usual policy of Charlemagne and his successors, the monastery received lavish treatment but was in return used by the Empire for governmental and educational purposes. Abbot Grimald (841 &ndash 872), for example, was Chancellor, a key position in the Empire&rsquos administration, while Abbot Salomon (890 &ndash 919) was one of the most influential statesmen in the Kingdom of the East Franks, for more than three decades.

The convent&rsquos golden age began with Abbot Gozbert (816 &ndash 837), who was close to Emperor Ludwig the Pious, son of Charlemagne. He built an impressive church with three naves. It was bigger than the churches in Reichenau and Basel and as wide as the cathedral today. These building activities were strongly influenced by the famous St Gall Monastery Plan, the earliest known architectural plan drawn on parchment. Some capitals from this older church are on display in the convent&rsquos Lapidarium.

Did you know?

&bull 333 explanations of typical abbey buildings are to be found on the famous Plan of St. Gall, which dates back to 825.

&bull The Alcuin Bible, produced around the year 800 has 840 pages and weighs about 20 kg.

&bull The Abbey of St. Gall can look back over a unique and continuously documented history of more than a thousand years.

Chris & Sue's Excellent(?) Adventures

We spent a day in St Gallen, a historic town located in the northeast of Switzerland. It is best known for its university and the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

The collection of buildings in the abbey precinct including its magnificent Baroque cathedral form a unique historical ensemble. The appearance of the abbey’s buildings is largely the result of constructions in the 18th century.

The west side includes the Baroque church (the present cathedral), flanked by two towers and the ancient cloister, which today houses the Abbey Library.

The city of St. Gallen grew around the Abbey of St Gall, which is said to have been built at the site of the hermitage of Irish missionary Gallus established in AD 612. The abbey followed the Rule of St. Benedict, which prescribes the contemplative study of literature.

We were in awe of this late baroque Rococo decorations.

The abbey prospered in the 9th century and became a site of pilgrimage and a center of trade, with associated guest houses, stables and other facilities.

As a religious city-states, the abbey joined the Swiss Confederation in 1450s and the town became free from the abbot.

The abbey is an outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery, represents 1200 years of history of monastic architecture from the Middle Ages.

The interior of the Cathedral is one of the most important baroque monuments in Switzerland.

Scrolling curves, gilding, white and pastel colors, sculpted molding, and trompe l’oeil frescoes – this church has every element of Rococo.

The Abbey library of Saint Gall (Stiftsbibliothek) is recognized as one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. It is also known as the Seelenapotheke (healing place of the soul). It is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of early medieval books in the German-speaking part of Europe.

There was a guided tour and we were required to wear soft overshoes to protect the floor.

The two-storeys library, its walls and the balconies are ornately decorated. The library hall designed by the architect Peter Thumb in a Rococo style, was constructed between 1758-67. Bookshelves alternate with window recesses on both levels.

The library holds 2,100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through the 15th centuries which are handwritten, 1,650 incunabula (printed before 1500), and old printed books. 400 of the handwritten books are over 1000 years old. These manuscripts are placed inside the glass cases.

Of particular interest are a beautiful collection of early medieval Irish manuscripts unique in Continental Europe.

The 2,700 year old Egyptian mummy Shepenese is also housed in the library.

This abbey and the library is really THE place to learn and experience central European history and see Rococo.


St Gallen Manastırı, İsviçre’nin kuzeydoğusunda bulunan Constance Gölü, Zürih Gölü ve Appenzell arasında kalan St Gallen’de bulunur.

Başrahip Othmar’ın ilk temel taşını koyduğu günden günümüze kadar geçen bin yıldan fazla zamanda, Romaneskten Rokokoya kadar tüm mimari stilleri görmüştür. Yüksek Orta Çağlardan günümüze kadar tüm önemli mimari dönemler örnek bir biçimde temsil etmiştir, hala da etmektedir.

Mevcut katedral, 18.yüzyılda geç Barok tarzında yeniden inşa edilmiştir.

Batı’daki Barok kiliselerinin son anıtsal yapılarından biridir. Katedral, İsviçre’deki en önemli barok eserlerden biridir. Rokoko kütüphanesi, dönemin en güzel örneklerinden birini temsil etmektedir. Manastırdan günümüze ulaşan kısımlar 18.yüzyıldan kalmıştır ancak kütüphane 9.yüzyıldan beri aynıdır.

Saint Gallen Manastırı’nın hemen yanında Abbey Kütüphanesi vardır. Abbey Kütüphanesinde binlerce değerli el yazmaları ve kitaplar vardır. Şimdiki kütüphane bölümü, 18. yüzyılda, Rokoko mimarisi tarzında, Peter Thumb tarafından restore edilmiş ve İsviçre’deki kutsal olmayan en güzel bölüm olarak nitelendirilmiştir.

Kütüphane, zengin bir ahşap konstrüksiyon ve tavan süslemeleriyle dekore edilmiştir. 34 pencereden bol güneş ışığı almaktadır. Kütüphane koleksiyonu, İsviçre’deki ve dünyadaki en eski derlemelere sahiptir. Aynı zamanda dünyadaki en önemli manastır kütüphanelerinden biridir.

Saint Gallen Manastırının planı Orta Çağ’dan günümüze ulaşan en eski manastır planıdır. Günümüze ulaşan plan Başrahip Gozbert tarafından yapılmıştır. Aslında planın ortaya koyduğu manastır hiç inşa edilmemiştir, burada daha ziyade ne tür binaların ideal bir manastırı oluşturabileceğini ve binaların birbiriyle olan bağlantılarının nasıl olması gerektiğini anlatan bir plan söz konusudur. Saint Gallen planında görüldüğü üzere, tipik bir ortaçağ manastırını meydana getiren yapılar, işlevlerine ve seküler dünya ile olan ilişkilerine göre konuşlandırılıp gruplandırılıyorlardı. (Kapıcı ve ziyaretçi keşişler için kilisenin kuzey duvarına bitişik odalar bulunmakta gibi)

Günümüze gelene kadar St Gallen Manastırı ve Kütüphanesi çeşitli yangın ve başka durumlara maruz kalmıştır. Günümüzdeki katedral 18. yüzyılda yeniden inşa edilmiştir. Kütüphane ise inşa edildiği 9. yüzyıldan beri çok büyük değişikliğe uğramamıştır.

St Gallen Manastırı ile Kütüphanesi, 1983 yılında UNESCO Dünya Mirası Listesi’ne eklenmiştir

Bible Encyclopedias

In Switzerland, Canton St. Gall, 30 miles southeast of Constance for many centuries one of the chief Benedictine abbeys in Europe founded about 613, and named after Gallus, an Irishman, the disciple and companion of St. Columbanus in his exile from Luxeuil. When his master went on to Italy, Gallus remained in Switzerland, where he died about 646. A chapel was erected on the spot occupied by his cell, and a priest named Othmar was placed there by Charles Martel as custodian of the saint's relics. Under his direction a monastery was built, many privileges and benefactions being upon it by Charles Martel and his son Pepin, who with Othmar as first abbot, are reckoned its principal founders. By Pepin's persuasion Othmar substituted the Benedictine rule for that of St. Columbanus. He also founded the famous schools of St. Gall, and under him and his successors the arts, letters, and sciences were assiduously cultivated. The work of copying manuscripts was undertaken at a very early date, and the nucleus of the famous library gathered together. The abbey gave hospitality to numerous Anglo-Saxon and Irish monks who came to copy manuscripts for their own monasteries. Two distinguished guests of the abbey were Peter and Romanus, chanters from Rome, sent by Pope Adrian I at Charlemagne's request to propagate the use of the Gregorian chant. Peter went on to Metz, where he established an important chant-school, but Romanus, having fallen sick at St. Gall, stayed there with Charlemagne's consent. To the copies of the Roman chant that he brought with him, he added the "Romanian signs", the interpretation of which has since become a matter of controversy, and the school he started at St. Gall, rivalling that of Metz, became one of the most frequented in Europe.

The chief manuscripts produced by it, still extant, are the "Antiphonale Missarum" (no. 339), the "Antiphonarium Sti. Gregorii" (no. 359), and Hartker's "Antiphonarium" (nos. 390-391), the first and third of which have been reproduced in facsimile by the Solesmes fathers in their "Paléographie Musicale". The other schools of the abbey &mdash for the younger monks and for lay scholars attracted thither by the fame of the monastic professors &mdash were founded as early as the ninth century, for the well-known, but unrealized plan of 820 provides separate accommodation for both schools. The domestic history of the community during these centuries of consolidation was not altogether free from troubles. Even during the lifetime of Othmar, the monks had to defend themselves against the bishops of Constance, who, having already secured jurisdiction over the neighbouring Abbey of Reichenau, refused to recognise the exemption and other privileges of St. Gall. For many years the monks had to fight for their independence, but it was not until the time of Louis the Pious that their efforts were crowned with success and their rights confirmed. From that time up to the end of the tenth century was the golden age of the abbey, during which flourished many celebrated scholars &mdash the three Notkers, Eckhard, Hartker and others. The decrees of the Council of Aachen (817) for the furtherance of discipline and the religious spirit were loyally carried into effect by Abbot Gotzbert (815-837), under whom the monks built a new and magnificent church and by whom also the library was greatly enlarged. He purchased many fresh manuscripts and set his monks to multiply copies of them. His successor Grimald (841-872) carried on the work, and a catalogue drawn up in his time, still extant, shows the wide range of subjects represented. Over four hundred of the manuscripts mentioned in that catalogue are still at St. Gall.

During the abbacy of Engelbert II (924-933) an incursion of the Huns threatened the abbey, and most of the valuable books and manuscripts were removed to Reichenau for safety, some never being returned. In 937 a disastrous fire almost entirely destroyed the monastery, but the library fortunately escaped. The abbey and town were rebuilt and fortified, and throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries St. Gall maintained its place in the front rank of monastic establishments. With the thirteenth century, however, came a period of decline. Various causes contributed to this, one of them being the fact that the neighbouring feudal lords took to quartering themselves and their retinues upon the abbey more often than was good for monastic discipline. The abbots also were frequently called upon to settle their quarrels, and a spirit of worldliness thus crept into the cloister. About the same time the abbey and town became an independent principality, over which the abbots ruled as territorial sovereigns, taking rank as Princes of the Empire. Ulrich VI (1204-1220) was the first to hold that dignity. Records as to the library during this period are scanty. In the fourteenth century Humanists were allowed to take away some of the rarest of the classical manuscripts and in the sixteenth the abbey was raided by the Calvinists, who scattered many of the most valuable books. In 1530 Abbot Diethelm inaugurated a restoration with such success that he has been called the third founder of St. Gall. The library was one of his chief cares and his successors zealously followed his good example. Through their efforts the monastic spirit, the schools and the studies all revived and attained to something of their former greatness. In 1602, when the Swiss congregation of the Order of St. Benedict was formed, the Abbey of St. Gall took precedence as the first house of the congregation, and many of its abbots subsequently held the office of president.

A printing-press was started under Pius (1630-1674), which soon became one of the most important in Switzerland. In 1712 a great change came over the fortunes of the monastery. It was pillaged by the Swiss, who spared nothing. Most of the books and manuscripts were carried off to Zurich, Berne and other places, and only a portion of them were afterwards restored to St. Gall. The abbot of the time, Leodegar by name, was obliged for security to place his monastery under the protection of the townspeople whose ancestors had been serfs of the abbey, but who had, since the Reformation, thrown off the yoke of subjection. When these disturbances were over, a final attempt was made to revive the glories of the abbey. The monastery was rebuilt for the last time under Abbots Celestine II and Bede, but the resuscitation was short-lived. In 1798 the Swiss directory suppressed the ecclesiastical principality and secularized the abbey, and in 1805 its revenues were sequestrated. The monks took refuge in other houses of the congregation, the last abbot, Pancras Forster, dying in 1829 at Muri. When the Diocese of Constance was suppressed in 1821, that portion of it in which St. Gall was situated was united to the Diocese of Coire, but in 846 a rearrangement made St. Gall a separate see, with the abbey church as its cathedral and a portion of the monastic buildings being resigned for the bishop's residence. The church, rebuilt 1755-65 in the rococo style, contains some finely-carved choir stalls and a beautiful wrought iron screen. The conventual buildings, besides the bishop's palace, now accommodate also the cantonal offices and what remains of the library &mdash about thirty thousand volumes and manuscripts. The town of St. Gall has a population of over 30,000 and is one of the principal manufacturing centres in Switzerland, muslin and cotton being its chief industries.

Abbey Cathedral St.Gallen

Constructed from 1755-70, St. Gallen Cathedral is one of the last monumental sacred buildings in Europe of the late baroque period and features eastern and western rotundas that symmetrically frame the nave and chancel. In 1983 the Abbey was declared a Unesco World Cultural Heritage Site.

The monastery of St.Gallen was the heart of the northeast Switzerland city in the Steinach valley near Lake Constance. The cathedral is part of the original benedictine monastery complex with a history going back to the 7th. century when the Irish monk Gallus settled in the Steinach canyon. From this arose a monastery in 719, which in 800 blossomed religiously, economically and culturally. Its story began in the 8th century during the Carolingian period. From 747 to 1805, it functioned as an abbey. The entire complex of the abbey was considered either a separate principality or a city-state home to 70000 people. The Abbey Cathedral survived both the reformation and French Revolution, but under the influence of Napoleon in 1805, when the Canton of St.Gallen was established, both the monastery and its political rule were dissolved.

The church, like the neighbouring abbey library, built after the plans of Peter Thumb and decorated by the best South German artists of the day. The present abbey cathedral was completed in 1766 and the renowned architect Johann Caspar Bagnato was involved in the planning. The cathedral has a very airy feeling as it is very light inside. The baptismal font reflects the frescoed ceiling. The painter of the vault paintings was Josef Wannenmacher and the stucco works are a work of the brothers Johann Georg and Matthias Gigl.

Hmmm what else? There are over 800 putti and angels in the whole cathedral. The towers are 68 meters high. There are two bells in the north tower. The bell «Dreifaltigkeitsglocke» is over 8000 kg, made 1767 by Peter Ludwig Kaiser and has the deepest bell sound of Switzerland. And seven bells hang in the south tower.

Have a seat and quietly admire the frescoes and paintings on almost every square inch of the interior, including on the ceiling! There’s ornate stucco work everywhere you look, the ceilings are covered with frescoes, there are sculptures on almost every surface and the color scheme of turquoise and beige. Even if you’re not religious, just spend a few moments in here you’ll be mightily impressed with what you see!

Insider: The oldest bell in Switzerland (610)
Look for the oldest bell, from the seventh century! It is preserved in the cathedral on the right side of the altar (you have to look through the iron grid). The bell brought by Gallus on his seventh-century journey from Ireland is one of the tree oldest surviving bells in Europe! It was donated to the monastery in 1786. They used it as a hand bell to exile evil spirits. On the mantle of the bell is painted «Gallus and the bear» as well a quote.

Insider: The 3-dimensional foot of Franciscus
In the cupola of the rotunda, paradise, 60 saints are arranged on spiral cloud bands. Look for the seated figure of St. Franciscus and along the edge of the ornate plasterwork of the dome painting, check out the feet which protrude into space intended to give the work a 3-dimensional impression.

Two crypt
There are two to crypt (a chapel under a church) beneath the Cathedral but I was never in there and it’s not open to the public. Maybe it’s only a rumor, I don’t know for sure… The eastern crypt goes back to the 9th century. The tomb of St.Gallus, containing a piece of his skull, is in the east crypt, while the west crypt houses the tombs of St.Otmar and since 1966 the Bishops of St.Gallen.

If you visit a DomVesper (every Tuesday, 5.30 p.m.) you can also sit in the front of the choir chairs. The choir stall, comprising historic organ and 84 beautifully carved seats is an artwork in itself.

Cloister St.Gallen

Open 6.3.-18.4.2019 / Mo-Sa, 2 p.m. until 6 p.m.

Photo, Audio Guide, no entrance fee
There is no charge and you can take photos as long as there is no service going on. You can get an audio guide by visiting the tourist information office nearby or in the Abbey Library. #青春教堂瑞士聖加侖

Abbey Cathedral St.Gallen

The Swiss have known for centuries what a jewel the Abbey of St. Gall is. Since its founding in the 8th century, the abbey has been known as an intellectual and religious center. In addition to its cultural importance, the abbey is set in the verdant Steinach Valley near Lake Constance, a lovely corner of northeastern Switzerland. In 1983, the world recognized the location's importance, designating the Abbey of St. Gall a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

The heart of the Abbey of St. Gall is its Cathedral. Despite years of struggles during the stormy Reformation era, the current cathedral imparts nothing but peaceful elegance. Begun in 1755, the existing building is one of the last monumental Baroque buildings in Europe. A white interior is adorned with green wedding cake ornamentation (stucco-work), rose marble altars and a gilded altar screen. Ceiling frescoes depict biblical characters, and throngs of cherubs and saints gaze upon the scene from among the clouds of heaven.

Beneath the apse a small crypt dating from the 9th century comprises the oldest part of the abbey. A modern reliquary holds the grave of St. Gallus as well as the tombs of St. Otmar and several abbots and bishops. A simple, quiet chapel occupies the space as well. Its walls still retain bits of 10th century frescoes above the altar.

Willkommen in einer der bedeutendsten historischen Bibliotheken der Welt

B ereits seit dem Frühmittelalter besiedelt, ist der Stiftsbezirk St. Gallen Heimat spätbarocker Bauten und heute UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe. Zu den historischen Highlights gehören die prachtvolle Kathedrale und die weltbekannte Stiftsbibliothek sowie die Ausstellungen im Ausstellungssaal und im Gewölbekeller.

Sie ist zweifellos eine der schönsten Bibliotheken der Welt: Die Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. Der unvergleichliche Barocksaal (1758/1767) im ehemaligen Kloster ist überwältigend. Allerdings ist der eigentliche Schatz die hier aufbewahrte Handschriftensammlung, die über tausend Jahre alt und Teil des UNESCO-Weltkultur- und Weltdokumentenerbes ist.

Bis zum 8.März 2020 findet hier die Winterausstellung Geschichte machen – Handschriften erzählen Vergangenheit statt, in deren Zentrum die Entwicklung der europäischen Geschichtsschreibung steht.

Im Gewölbekeller führt die Dauerausstellung Gallus und sein Kloster durch 1400 Jahre Kulturgeschichte, von der Einsiedlerzelle des Gallus bis zum UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe Stiftsbezirk.

Den Klosterplan, der als bedeutendste Architekturzeichnung des Mittelalters gilt, findet man im Ausstellungssaal, neben der Dauerausstellung Das Wunder der Überlieferung – Der St.Galler Klosterplan und Europa im frühen Mittelalter, über die Dokumenten und Urkunden aus der Zeit von 700 bis 1000, die im ebenfalls bedeutenden Stiftsarchiv aufbewahrt werden.

Exhibition Space with St Gall Abbey Plan, Reichenau, c. 825, Saint Gall, Abbey Library, Cod. Sang. 1092r. Photo: © Cornelia Vinzens

Sankt Gallen

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Sankt Gallen, (German), French Saint-Gall, town, capital of Sankt Gallen canton, northeastern Switzerland, in the Steinach Valley, just south of Lake Constance (Bodensee). In 612 the Celtic missionary St. Gall founded a hermitage on the site. Disciples joined him, and c. 720 the foundation became a Benedictine abbey under Abbot Otmar. Until the 11th century, the abbey school was the most important educational institution north of the Alps, and in its scriptorium were laid the foundations of the world-famed library. The town that developed around the abbey was ruled by the abbots, princes of the Holy Roman Empire after 1206. The abbey and the town allied with the Swiss Confederation in 1453 and 1454, respectively. Clerical rule ended with the introduction of the Reformation in 1524, and the town became the capital of the new canton formed in 1803, when the abbey was disendowed. The town’s outlying parishes were incorporated in 1918, when a communal constitution was adopted. Sankt Gallen has been a Roman Catholic episcopal see since 1846.

The most notable landmarks are the abbey church and the former monastic buildings. The church (1755–72), one of the finest Baroque structures in Switzerland, is now the Roman Catholic cathedral. The library (1758–67), with its unique Rococo hall, contains about 2,000 manuscripts, as well as numerous incunabula and books dating from the Carolingian and Ottonian empires. There is a commercial university, schools of textiles, embroidery, and fashion, several museums, a theatre, and a concert hall.

Sankt Gallen had a long association with linen and cotton textiles and early in the 20th century was a leading embroidery centre. The latter industry still flourishes but has been balanced by metalworking and the manufacture of machinery and printing products. Well-known local events include the biennial Children’s Summer Festival, the biennial International Horse Show, and the Swiss National Fair for agriculture and dairying. The population is German speaking and predominantly Roman Catholic. Pop. (2007 est.) city, 70,375 urban agglom., 145,627.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.

Mapping History: The Abbey Library of St. Gall

Library of St. Gall (CC-BY-SA-3.0 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

The Abbey Library of Saint Gall, known as the Stiftsbibliothek of St. Gallen, is one of the oldest and most illustrious libraries in the world. The Stiftsbibliothek and surrounding St. Gall Abbey precinct have together served for centuries as one of the leading cultural centers in the Western world, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the picturesque city of St. Gallen (Sankt Gallen), Switzerland, in the canton of the same name near the Appenzell at the foot of the Alps, the Abbey Library is a veritable treasure chest of preserved history. It is home to over 160,000 volumes of manuscripts, illuminated or otherwise, with many incunabula (texts before 1500) as well as early prints and books. The current library hall and surrounding Abbey of St. Gall were built between 1755 and 1767. Above the large Rococo entrance door into the library, an inscription in Greek reads Psyches iatreion, roughly translated as “Healing Place for the Soul”. This inscription alludes to the idea of an ancient healing site, such as the Aesculapion of Epidaurus in Greece, or the sacred library of the tomb complex of Ramses II in Thebes. [1] While now one mostly sees an eighteenth-century library, the collecting and scribing of manuscripts and books began almost a millennium earlier.

Around the year 612, the priest-monk Gallus (c. 560 – c. 650), retired from his travels with the Irish monk, Columbanus (540-615), and settled in the Steinach Valley near Lake Constance. There he built a hermit’s cell and oratory that later served as a meeting place for his growing band of disciples. Around 719, the Alemanni priest Othmar (c. 689 – c. 759) expanded the by now well-visited hermitage of Gallus (canonized as St. Gall) into the Abbey of St. Gall. By the request of Karlmann, Ruler of the Franks, in 747 the Abbey began to follow the Rule of St. Benedict and Othmar became the first abbot of St. Gall.[2] He was later canonized as St. Othmar in 864.

Rococo Doors into Library with Inscription - Psyches iatreion - "Place For Healing of Souls" in Greek (photo A. Williams, 2011)

Books and literacy have always been central to the Abbey of St. Gall. Applied to the Abbey at the outset under the Benedictine Rule, every monk received the scriptures and was obligated to read them as regularly and as best as possible (as stipulated in the Benedictine Rule, Chapter 48, 15). In his bibliography on Charlemagne, Charlemagne: the Formation of a European Identity, R. McKitterick mentions “the remarkable archive efficiency of St. Gallen” in the ninth century. [3] This period usually marks the terminus of the Dark Ages because of the Carolingian Renaissance, when, near-moribund literacy in Europe was being revived by Charlemagne’s sponsorship of new monasteries with scriptoria for manuscript production. But it is important to remind us that St. Gall was already thriving before Charlemagne. The presence of books, and the ability to read and write, was critical to this order and certainly contributed to the prolific collecting and producing of manuscripts at the Library of St. Gall. Preserving such a vast and richly unique collection of documents has long been the noble enterprise of the library that continues to the present.

Abbey Cathedral of St. Gall (photo A. Williams, 2011)

Examples of St. Gall’s scribal treasures include the oldest complete music manuscript in the world, the St. Gall Cantatorium, produced at the Abbey circa 920/930 (Manuscript 359), as well as the fourth to fifth century Vergilius Sangallensis (Manuscript 1394) containing Virgil’s Aeneid, Georgics, and Bucolics (Eclogues), [4] predating the monastery, and the illustrated travel journal of Georg Franz Müller (1646-1723) to the Far East (Manuscript 1311). [5] Two vital Carolingian documents include Charlemagnic charters one documents a gift to the priest Arnaud and another is the agreement between Abbot John of St. Gallen and Bishop Sidonius of Constance, “two of the very few royal diplomas from Alemannia as a whole before 814.” [6] A famous discovery at the Abbey of St. Gall happened in 1416 when the important Italian Humanist Giovanni Poggio found a rewritten manuscript copy of a Roman text, Quintilian’s Institutio Oratorio (originally from the end of the first century). [7] The abbey’s abundant collection of the past is endless with unique, historically important documents.

Dr. K. Schmuki with (Replica) Abbey plan in Library Hall (photo A. Williams, 2011)

Perhaps one of the most famous manuscript treasures currently here is the Plan of the Abbey of St. Gall. Noted Stiftsbibliothek librarian and scholar, Dr. Karl Schmuki, described to me that the Carolingian abbey plan (Manuscript 1092), “is the only one of its kind…it is not for another three hundred years that another monastic cathedral plan is known.” This ninth-century plan of the Abbey of St. Gall is the earliest and only surviving major architectural plan in Western history from the Carolingian period. Dating to possibly as early as 817, the document measures 112 by 77.5 centimeters and is constructed of five large pieces of sheepskin parchment sewn together. [8] The outlines of the fifty buildings in red Indian ink are labeled in Latin with black ink. Portrayed as an idyllic and symmetrical community for monastic living, it reflects an altogether perfect plan for a Benedictine monastery. The balanced structures of the cathedral, cloister, living quarters, refectory, infirmary, schoolrooms, stables, and lodging for guests, mirror the Benedictine notion of combining daily life and prayer. Although never fully realized, the significance of this plan is incredible. In addition to it being the only document of its kind, the plan clearly shows the importance of the monastery library, as its own building, immediately to the East of the Cathedral apse. Labeled in black ink, the Bibliotheca is a stand-alone structure, with a large library hall and a scriptorium for the scribes under the main level.

Image of Abbey Plan - replica enlarged on wall (photo A. Williams, 2011)

A surprising fact to many, the Abbey plan is also a prime example of one of the library’s many palimpsests. A palimpsest is a piece of parchment whose original text has been scraped off with chemicals or reused on the reverse due to the high cost of parchment or the lack of paper. [9] Almost lost to time altogether, these pieces are particularly precious as words and images can barely be made out, or they are again, the only known examples of documents. Like the Rex palimpsestorum (Manuscript 908), a codex where the only existing prose of the fifth-century poet, Flavius Merobaudes, are slightly visible, Schmuki pointed out that “on the reverse of the Abbey plan, the History of the Life of St. Martin was written in the twelfth century. Although not erased, the History of the Life of St. Martin was more important than the monastery plan in the twelfth century.”

Enlarged Detail of Library in Abbey Plan (photo A. Williams, 2011)

Today, the Abbey plan of St. Gall is a window into a monastic world that was meticulously planned, although never fully realized. Yet it has preserved for us a slice of history into an ideal life regulated by order and the pursuit of knowledge. The Abbey plan is just one of the many treasures of our past that has been cared for over the centuries at the Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. It is no wonder that such a house of history is a place that heals the soul.

B. Anderes, The Abbey of St. Gall, The Ancient Ecclesiastical Precinct, (St. Gallen, 2002).

L. Price, The Plan of St. Gall in brief, An overview based on the three-volume work by W. Horn and E. Born, (Berkeley, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982).

E. Tremp, J. Huber, K. Schmuki, The Abbey Library of Saint Gall, translated from German, J. Horelent, (St. Gallen, 2007) (original: Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. Ein Rundgang durch Geschichte , Räumlichkeiten und Sammlungen. St. Gallen: Verlag am Klosterhof, 2003)

Special thanks to Dr. K. Schmuki, Stiftsbibliothek Librarian, for his very informative interview and tour.

[1] Diodorus Siculus. Bibliotheke I.49.3 (where the inscription was putatively recorded in Egypt, although in the Ptolemaic Era if in Greek)

[2] E. Tremp, J. Huber, K. Schmuki, The Abbey Library of Saint Gall, translated from German, J. Horelent, (St. Gallen, 2007), 9.

[3] R. McKitterick. Charlemagne: the Formation of a European Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008, 198.

[4] K. Schmuki, P. Ochsenbein, C. Dora. Cimelia Sangallensia: Hundert Kostarbeiten aus der Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. (St. Gallen: Verlag am Klosterhof, 1998).

[5] Tremp, Huber, Schmuki, 74, 93, 106.

[7] A. van der Kooij, K. van der Toorn, J. A. M. Snoek, (Leiden Institute for the Study of Religions). Canonization and Decanonization. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998, 47.

[9] R. Netz and W. Noel. The Archimedes Codex. New York: Da Capo/Perseus, 2007, 15 (definition of a palimpsest).

Watch the video: Convent of St Gall UNESCONHK