The Millenary Treasures of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland

October 29, 2019

The Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, founded in 934, is the most important Marian shrine in Switzerland. In the abbey church dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits, the chapel of Graces in black marble houses a famous black Madonna of the 15th Century, under a dome decorated with frescoes.

This baroque era monastery has a library that houses treasures, including the oldest gradual in the world; 1,280 manuscripts, 1,100 incunabula, and 230,000 other works are carefully preserved. The monastery library is open to the public as part of guided tours. The Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln is also a station on the road to Santiago de Compostela. In 2017, the monastery had about 50 religious including 41 priests.

From the time of the first abbots (Thietland, Gregor), Einsiedeln had a scriptorium, created, like the monastic school, by St. Wolfgang. It achieved the heights of illumination in the tenth and eleventh centuries. A considerable number of copyists created theological and liturgical works, as well as the lives of saints. Composed around 960, the Einsiedeln gradual is accepted as the oldest notation of choral music. The Einsiedeln Annals, the calendar and the Heremi Annals (tenth-eleventh century) bear witness to an early interest in historiography. In the second half of the 12th century, the scriptorium suffered momentarily from a loss of vitality. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, there are only rare, but remarkable achievements such as the four antiphonaries elaborated under Johannes von Schwanden, the first Swiss transcription of neumes in square notation. With the new golden age of the monastery around 1600, the book found its place. Fr. Augustin Hofmann built the first building entirely reserved for a library.

His successor Placidus Reimann set up a printing press in 1664 and commissioned five of the 14 volumes of Documenta Archivii Einsidlensis. Other works devoted mainly to theology, liturgy, and history followed, including Abbot Augustin Reding’s monumental Theologia scholastica in 13 volumes.

Eight columns are situated at the four corners of the library. Their capitals represent in turn the four seasons—symbolized by flowers, cereals, grapes, and fur; as well as the four elements—with a bird, an oil lamp, fish, and fruits and vegetables. An appropriate way in which baroque art signifies that all that is known in space and time may be found in books.

From 1994 to 1998, important restoration work, enabled the Einsiedeln library, has been undertaken to restore the original state of the Baroque hall of 1740. The work being carried out concerns not only the architectural aspect, but also the conservation of the structures that previously suffered from cold, heat, and humidity, and had been exposed to the risk of fire.

Encouraged by St. Benedict, study is one of the foundations of monastic life. Throughout the Middle Ages, this book culture promoted the transmission of knowledge.