Melk Abbey — Spiritual Cultural Center

 

In 996 the name “Ostarrîchi” (Austria) was mentioned for the first time in a document. In the more than 1000 years that have passed since then, in which little Ostarrîchi developed first into a huge empire and finally into our current-day Austria, Melk has always been an important cultural and spiritual center of this country.

Leopold I with a canon priest Leopold I with Sigibold, the first abbotLeopold I, who was made margrave of the area of present-day southwestern Lower Austria in 976, made the castle in Melk his residence, and his successors provided it with valuable treasures and relics. In 1089, Leopold II gave the castle to Benedictine monks from Lambach. Since then monks have lived and worked here without interruption following the rule of St. Benedict . Since the 12th century a school has been connected with the monastery, and valuable manuscripts have been collected and created in the library. In the 15th century, the monastery was the starting point of one of the most important medieval monastic reforms, the “Melk Reform”, and had close ties to the Humanists at the University of Vienna.

Abbot Berthold Dietmayr in the gown of a rector magnificus of the universityThe architect, Jakob Prandtauer--in the background his masterpiece, Melk Abbey

Visual evidence of the monastery’s importance in the Baroque as well as of the outstanding status of the abbot at the time, Berthold Dietmayr, is the magnificent baroque building. This was built between 1702 and 1736 following plans by Jakob Prandtauer and with the cooperation of some of the most renowned artists of the time (J.M. Rottmayr, P. Troger, L. Matielli, A. Beduzzi, J.W. Bergl, P. Widerin, etc.). In this period the monastery also showed flourishing activity in other fields, for example liberal arts or music (i.e. Anselm Schramb, Father Bernhard Pez, Father Marian Paradeiser, Father Maximilian Stadler).


Joseph II

 

Although the monastery was spared from the fate of dissolution during the rule of Joseph II (1780-90), numerous state regulations were imposed on monastic life. For example, imperial lay administrative abbots were installed, the monastery’s theological school was closed upon imperial order, and the secondary school was moved to St. Pölten. Due to the parish order under Joseph II, the number of parishes cared for by the monastery increased to 27, a heavy burden for the monastery to staff.  Today the monastery is still responsible for 23 parishes.


The Napoleonic Wars and the end of the feudal period in 1848 brought substantial economic changes and difficulties for the monastery. In the 19th century, the first extensive restoration was carried out, and the rooms for the secondary school and boarding school were expanded.  The monastery received a modern sewage system, electric lights and new plumbing around 1900.

Fire in the dome 1947 (during repairs of damage caused by bomb fragments the dome caught fire)The period of the two world wars brought great problems to the monastery once again. In addition to economic difficulties in the time of inflation came the threat of imminent dissolution by the National Socialists after the “Anschluss” in 1938. Fathers were threatened with arrest. The secondary school was taken away from the Benedictines and a large part of the abbey confiscated for a state secondary school.


Since the monastery was, thank God, not dissolved, it was able to survive the end of the war and the period of occupation fairly well.