Monasteries of Lower Austria & Vienna - Part II
Part II: Geras - Melk
This small Premonstratensian abbey Stift Geras (http://www.stiftgeras.at/) was founded in 1153. It has the usual bits of a church, halls and cloister court and some medieval defence buildings. The church got Baroque elements in 1730. Today, the monastery runs a company that rents out apartments for holidays and encourages the work with local culture and craftsmanship by organising courses in regional, traditional crafts. This includes certain types of painting, carving, singing and other disciplines that appeal to "spiritual tourists".
Stift Melk: The "Austrian National Abbey"
If there was any such thing as a "National Abbey", the glorious Benedictine monastery of Stift Melk (http://www.stiftmelk.at/) would be the one of Austria. In the heart of the Wachau area in Lower Austria, Melk was the centre of the medieval county of Austria ruled by the Babenberg dynasty. In the 10th century, there was a castle of the first count of Austria, Leopold I, with an affiliated collegiate convent.
In 1014, the martyr St. Koloman was buried in Melk. By 1089, Leopold II called in Benedictine monks from Lambach abbey. At latest from now on, Melk was the political, spiritual and intellectual centre of Austria - famous for its scriptorium, library and scholarly tradition. In 1110, Melk became dependent to the Holy See. In 1156, Duke Heinrich Jasomirgott made Vienna the capital of Austria.
As an intellectual centre, Melk′s Annals and the „Breve chronicon" from the 12th century are important scriptures for Austrian history. In the 14th century, Melk was extended and got mighty fortifications; the bug was inside, though: Like many abbeys in Europe, Melk struggled towards the late Middle Ages with dropping morals, criticism of the abbey′s wealth and power and the lack of a central drive.
In the 15th century, the "Melk Reforms" aimed to standardise monastic life in Austria, Swabia and Bavaria. The codex of monkish behaviour had a dramatic impact on the religious and cultural life of Austria, at the onset of reformist movements. Once the reformation had thoroughly kicked in (in the early 16th century), the loss of power could not be prevented.
Many monasteries became the target of plundering farmers, climaxing with the "30 Years′ War" between 1608 and 1638. In 1630, Melk tried to release a second codex with reforms of Catholic monasteries, but failed. Only with the recovery of Austria after the war and the proceeding of the counter-reformation, Melk once again became a crucial spot for intellectual and political endeavours. Much of the abbey was re-built in unrivalled, elaborate Baroque style between 1700 and 1750 - aiming to impress people and make the point that Catholic believes rock and rule.
Today, Melk abbey is part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage of the Wachau and famous for its impressive location on a rock above the Danube. Its southern walls are 300 metres long and make the abbey look like a palace. The splendid church contains frescos by Johann Michael Rottmayr, the tomb of St. Koloman, a 64 metre high dome and a famous front façade with two towers.
Outside of the church, you can see the Baroque cloisters, the Emperor′s Apartments, the abbey′s art collection, a marble hall, extensive gardens and a library with 75,000 volumes. Taken all of this - and the scenic Wachau surroundings - it is understandable why Melk is considered to be the ultimate example for Austrian Baroque monasteries.
All Monasteries by Province