Schottenstift Abbey, Vienna: "Monastery of
the Scots" as Vienna′s Medieval Legacy

The Schottenstift in Vienna is a Benedictine monastery at the Freyung Square in central Vienna. It is one of many monasteries of Vienna, but this one has particularly old ties to the city and its history as a capital of the (or at least some) Habsburg lands. The Schottenstift was founded in 1155 upon invitation (and with endowments by) Duke Heinrich II Jasomirgott.

The name "Schottenstift" means "Scott′s abbey" and can be explained through the national background of the original monkish population: They were Irish, and Ireland was called "Scotia Major" in the Middle Ages. In fact, the monks that came to Vienna did not come directly from Ireland, but from the St.-Jakobs-Kloster in Regensburg, today Germany.

The first constitution of the monastery assured the monks of the right that only Irish monks were to be admitted to the Schottenstift (phrased as "Solos elegimus Scottos"). It was the former Margkgrave now Duke Heinrich II Jasomirgott, who transferred his residence from Klosterneuburg to Vienna. The construction of the monastery was started in 1160, the opening ceremony held in 1200. Heinrich II Jasomirgott needed the monastery to take care of religious, educational and administrative issues: Monasteries were the only professional concentration of knowledge in Medieval Central Europe, at least until universities were founded.

Schottenstift: Your Partner in Making Vienna a Capital since 1365

This happened in Vienna in 1365, with support from the Schottenstift. Heinrich Jasomirgott is buried in the Schottenkirche; his palace, by the way, was just around the corner on the Am Hof Square. A great fire (which surely the Viennese of those days didn′t find all that great) destroyed the Schottenstift in 1276 and re-built in the following years. With the Melk Reforms of the early 15th century, stricter and more standardised rules were forced upon the pseudo-Scottish monks, to which they objected. As a result, Duke Albrecht V threw them out in 1418 and replaced them with a more disciplined crowd of Benedictine monks from Melk.

When a lightning struck one of the two towers of the Schottenstift in 1638, the time had come for a Baroque re-modelling of the church and monastery. The architects in charge were Andrea Allio the Elder and his cousin Andrea Allio the Younger, as well as Silvester Carlone. By 1651, the new gate of the front fašade was completed, a piece of work by Bartholomäus Khöll. In the course of this re-modelling, the total length of the church′s main nave was cut down.

In 1773, the old cemetery of the Schottenstift was dissolved and the "Schubladlkastenhaus" erected. It served as the "Prioratshaus", the house of the Abby′s prior. In 1807, an order by Emperor Franz I requested the foundation of a school run by the monastery - the Schottengymnasium, today one of Austria′s most distinguished schools.

Architecture of Schottenstift Abbey & Church, Vienna

The facades of the Schottenstift were re-arranged between 1826 and 1832, a time in which monasteries were required to create apartment space within the city walls. This was done by the famous architect Josef Kornhäusel, who did similar work for the monastery of Melk to the opposite of the Schottenstift and for the monastery of Seitenstetten in the Seitenstettengasse.

In 1880, the church was renovated; architect Heinrich Ferstel designed a new central altar, which contains a mosaic by Michael Reiser. Ferstel also built the Palais Ferstel on the other side of the Freyung Square, a building that was named after the famous Ringstraße architect. International visitors can see the church, the Jasomirgott Fountain on the outside of the church (dating back to 1651) and the museum (Stiftsmuseum). The latter one shows an altar from 1470 ("Schottenmeisteraltar"), which depicts Medieval Vienna and is considered an important source of information for archaeologists and historians. Another thing worth noticing is the Black Madonna by Peter Nobile (Classicist architect; built in 1825).

Attractions nearby are numerous, I have covered several in the article. Beyond those, note the Palais Kinsky, Palais Harrach, BA-CA-Kunstforum and Palais Schönborn-Batthyany. Further down the square, you will get to Am Hof Square with the Kirche am Hof and the old arsenal of Vienna. In the other directions, you will find the Ringstraße.

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Further Reading

Official Website of the Schottenstift, Vienna

Wikipedia on the Schottenstift Abbey

Schottenstift Museum at Freyung, Vienna