Monasteries of Salzburg

St Peter in Salzburg - the oldest Catholic monastery outside of Italy

Michaelbeuern in Salzburg

This Benedictine monastery Michaelbeuern ( in the very north of the province of Salzburg is ancient: It is assumed that monks from the ancient abbey of St. Peter in the city of Salzburg founded Michaelbeuern in the 8th century. The first church of the site dated back to 1072. Originally a Bavarian possession (like all of Salzburg), it later went under Roman rule. Mismanagement of the Vatican′s delegates devastated the monastery, which was bought by the - now sovereign - Salzburg in 1530.

From then on, its affiliation with the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg and his institutions was even more important. Several abbots were professors at Salzburg University or held important offices in the administration of Cathedral or the principality. Today, Michaelbeuern is a small monastery that is open for visitors only on request.

Located in a scenic village in the hills of the Flachgau (that′s where I am from, by the way), it still maintains a private school; the famous Baroque artist Michael Rottmayer was a graduate. The library holds 40,000 volumes. The monastery′s oldest parts are cloisters from the 9th century, most of today′s structures are late Medieval and the interiors are predominantly Baroque.

Stift St. Peter in Salzburg

The cradle of Christianity in Austria: St. Peter ( is the oldest monastery of the country and likely to be the oldest Catholic abbey in the World that was maintained without interruption. Around 695, Theodo, Duke of Bavaria decided to send the bishop of Worms, Rupert, to do mission work among the newly settling Awarian and Slavonic tribes east of Bavaria.

Financially and politically backed by Theodo, Rupert and his fellowship moved eastwards. He followed the Danube, but at the river Enns, he decided to return and went back to the west until he arrived in the ruined Roman town of Iuvavum. This is where he probably found a small Romano-Celtic community that was Christian. Rupert stayed and made Iuvavum his headquarter, founding the abbey of St. Peter. As early as in 739, Salzburg - as Iuvavum became known - was officially made the sede of a bishop.

In the 8th and 9th century, St. Peter was the headquarter for Bavarian endeavours for mission work in the Slavonic Carinthia, Styria, Lower Austria and (though more so after the Hungarian defeat in the 10th century) Hungary. In 987, the offices of bishop of Salzburg and abbot of St. Peter were segregated and a division between cathedral and monastery established.

There was a school affiliated with the abbey, which later turned into a college and seeded the foundation of Salzburg University. Some of the earliest pieces of literature that originated from Austrian lands were written in Salzburg - the "monk of Salzburg", a medieval singer and poet, was most likely a monk of St. Peter. In 1130, an affiliated nunnery was founded, but closed again in 1583.

In terms of attractions, the beautiful church of St. Peter is among Salzburg′s most important buildings - it would be a mistake to get distracted by the even bigger cathedral or Franciscan church or Collegiate Church each only some 50 to 100 metres away. The gate is Romanesque and from 1250, whereas the interiors of the church are Baroque and from 1785. Almost the entire abbey is not accessible for visitors, however, the famous cemetery is.

Here you will find one of the most atmospheric graveyards of Europe (featured in "The Sound of Music", but only re-built in a studio in California), with graves of Salzburg′s aristocracy. The library of St. Peter holds 120,000 volumes and the associated "St. Peter′s Keller" claims to be the oldest restaurant in the World, looking back to 1,200 years of history. Today, it is a high-end gourmet restaurant.

Stift Nonnberg in Salzburg

Stift Nonnberg ( is St. Peter′s sister and the oldest nunnery North of the Alps or even of the Catholic Church. It has a history of 1,200 years: Around 715, the ageing bishop Rupert travelled to his hometown Worms. He brought his sister Erentrudis, whom he made the abbess of a newly endowed nunnery on the Nonnberg Mountain in Salzburg. Stift Nonnberg became active in the missionary movement that originated from Salzburg and only in the first half of the 11th century.

It founded seven nunneries all over Austria. In the 12th century, Stift Nonnberg became a Benedictine nunnery. In 1242, the Archbishop of Salzburg granted the abbess of Nonnberg the privilege of using "Pontificalia", a crown, a chair and the "Pendum", a stick: symbols of Episcopal power. The abbess of Nonnberg still wears these on certain occasions, as the only abbess in the World with such privileges.

In terms of attractions, many visitors are delighted to discover that Nonnberg is the nunnery in which Fräulein Maria from "The Sound of Music" was a novice. In real life, she wasn′t, but nun-the-less, Stift Nonnberg is a top-attraction in Salzburg. The church and cemetery are open to the public. For centuries, joining Nonnberg as a nun was a privilege for noble women who often gave significant dowries to the nunnery. This led to an extensive collection of precious artefacts. The church itself is surprisingly plain, with Gothic arches, a dark crypt with the grave of the founder, St. Erentrudis.

The main altar dates back to 1515. Small chapels in the side-wings of the church contain smaller altars and tombstones in memoriam of former abbesses. Most significantly, there are Romanesque frescos in the back of the church. A little machine that feeds on coins can switch on light to show these extraordinary paintings that date back to 1150.

The Romanesque core was extended after a fire in 1423 and gained its Gothic features until 1507. The tower of Stift Nonnberg got its Baroque roof in 1711. Due to its prominent location between Hohensalzburg Fortress and the old city, Stift Nonnberg features on pretty much all postcards of Salzburg and is a top-attraction of the city.

All Monasteries by Province

Monasteries of Vorarlberg & Tyrol
Monasteries of Salzburg
Monasteries of Upper Austria
Monasteries of Lower Austria & Vienna
Monasteries of Carinthia
Monasteries of Styria

Further Reading

Introduction to the Monasteries of Austria

Wikipedia's list of Austrian Monasteries


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