Convent of St. Gall, St. Gallen

The Convent of St Gall, in the eastern Swiss city of St. Gallen, was considered a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery in its original form and is now called the finest example of Baroque architecture in Switzerland. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983.

From its founding in the 8th century until its dissolution in 1805, this Benedictine monastery was one of the most important in Europe. The abbey library is deservedly world-famous: it is one of the richest and oldest in the world and contains 130,000 books, including precious manuscripts such as the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment.

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History of Convent of St. Gall

In 612, the lrish monk Gallus (a follower of St. Columba) withdrew into the valley of Steinach to live as a hermit. According to legend, Gallus was travelling south from the Bodensee into the forest when he received a sign. Sources vary on the details, but most of them have to do with a helpful bear and a loaf of bread. In any case, Gallus appreciated the sign and built his hermitage on the spot.

In 747, the abbot Otmar established a community of Benedictine monks around Gallus' hermitage, and also founded a school of scribes and translators. Abbot Gotzbert established the monastery's famous library in the 830s, and the abbey of St. Gall became one of the most renowned centers of Western culture and science in the following centuries.

Sadly, only the foundations and some architectural elements remain from the splendor of the Carolingian monastery. The abbey church is now a cathedral (Domkirche) and it has been reconstructed several times; the current Baroque church was completed in 1767 after just 12 years of work.

What to See at Convent of St. Gall

St. Gallen's cathedral is huge and fully Baroque, and its great towers can be seen from throughout the city. The interior is well-lit and painted white, allowing a clear view of its three aisles, central cupola and extensive decoration. The murals on the vault were painted by Josef Wannenmacher. In the south altar is one of the oldest bells in Europe: the one brought by Gallus himself from Ireland in the 7th century.

The convent's library (Stiftsbibliothek) contains some 130,000 volumes, including precious manuscripts dating back to the 8th through the 15th centuries. The famous Plan of St. Gallen Abbey (830 AD) can be seen in a glass case.

Also among the library's collections is a 9th- or 10th-century ivory that depicts the legend of St. Gallus and the bear - and is the earliest known depiction of bread in Switzerland. It shows a bear bringing wood for Gallus' log cabin, after which the saint rewards the animal with a loaf of bread.

The library's architecture is Baroque but the decoration is Rococo. Murals on the vault include trompe l'oeil depictions of the four great early church councils and a portrait of the Venerable Bede (an English monk and church historian).

Aside from two main attractions of cathedral and library, the Convent of St. Gall includes the bishop's palace, which is still occupied by the Bishop of St. Gallen today, and the canton's administrative offices.

Quick Facts on Convent of St. Gall

Site Information
Names:Convent of St. Gall
Country:Switzerland
Categories:churches; monasteries; World Heritage Sites
Styles:Baroque style
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:47.423166° N, 9.376616° E
Address:St. Gallen, Switzerland
Lodging:View hotels near Convent of St. Gall
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. Convent of St Gall - UNESCO World Heritage List
  2. Stiftsbezirk - Bistum St. Gallen
  3. Matthew Teller, The Rough Guide to Switzerland.
  4. Darwin Porter, Frommer's Switzerland, 12th ed. (2006).

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