The Benedictine abbey in St. Galien, established in 720, was one of the most important monasteries in Europe, as well as being a leading center for the arts, letters, and sciences. A priceless library was gathered and monks came from far and wide to copy manuscripts, many of which still exist. Only the crypt remains of the Romanesque church and monastery built in the 9th century. The present Baroque cathedral and abbey, by architects Peter Thumb and Johann Michael Beer , were completed in 1766 and feature exquisite Rococo decorations.
Several calamitous fires destroyed much of the Romanesque Episcopal church erected in 830-37 on the site where the Cathedral of St Gall now stands. The only part of the building to have survived the ravages of time is the 9th- 1Oth century crypt which became an integral part of the Baroque cathedral The bishops of St Gall have long found their final resting place here – a tradition that has continued to the present day. Among those buried in the cathedral are Abbot Otmar, founder of the abbey, who, ten years after his death in 769, was interred in St Otmar’s Crypt beneath what is now the west gallery, and Bishop Otmar Mader, who died in 2003.
THE ABBEY LIBRARY
Built in the second half of the 18th century, the abbey library is richly decorated with ceiling frescoes, intricate stuccowork, wood-carving, and intarsia. The two-story reading room, containing walnut and cherry bookcases reaching to the ceiling, is especially impressive.
Around 130,000 leather-bound volumes and 2,000 manuscripts are housed here. These include such bibliophilic treasures as a copy of the Song of the Nibelungen and Codex Abrogans (790), a dictionary of synonyms believed to be one of the oldest existing written documents in German. The best-known item in the collection is the St. Gallener Klosterplan, showing the layout of an ideal Benedictine monastery. Copied from an earlier manuscript by monks in the early 9th century, this document is thought to have been the blueprint for the St Gallen Monastery.
Baroque was the predommant style for much of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Whereas in Italy, the golden age of Baroque was the high Baroque of 1630–80, Germany saw a flourishing of late Baroque well beyond 1700. The hallmarks of Baroque architecture are its preference for dynamic, curvaceous forms and broken gables; its Gesamtkunstwerk, or fusion of the arts to create an exuberant whole; and its liberal use ofornamentation and sculpture.
The Baroque choir stalls (1763- 70),made of walnut and decorated with paintings and gilding, are by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and Franz Joseph Staltzer.
The 11 Baroque confessionals in the nave are crowned with medallions featuring reliefs by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and Anton Dirr dating from 1761-3.
Beneath the cathedral is the crypt of the earlier church. Its walls retain fragments of 10th-century frescoes above the altar.
The ceiling is decorated with frescoes by Joseph Wannenmacher
The fine Rococo pulpit, decorated with figures of the Evangelists and of angels, was made by Anton Dirr in 1786.
Two thrones by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer, decorated with paintings by Franz Joseph Stalzer. stand in the choir stalls.
The painting of the Assumption of the Virgin on the high altar is by Francesco Romanelli. Dating from 1645, it was later heavily retouched.
According to the Gallus-Vita (835) by Walahfrid Strabo, the Abbey of St Otmar was founded on the site where a monk named Gallus (c. 560- 650) later canonized as St . Gall- built a hermit’s shelter for himself in 612.
c. 720 : An abbey is founded by a priest named Otmar to preserve St. Gall’s relics.
816-37: A Benedictine abbey with a basilica is constructed.
1529: The people of St. Gallen expel the monks. They return in 1532.
1755-67: The Baroque Episcopal church is built with an opulent nave and stuccowork.
1758-67: The abbey library is built to house the priceless collectbn of illuminated manuscripts.
1805: Under Napoleon’s influence, the monastery is dissolved.
1824: The Episcopal church is elevated to the status of a cathedral.
1983: St. Gallen Monastery becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.