Baroque ReconstructionPrint this page
“The interior recovery of the monastic community in the 17th century was soon reflected externally by the Baroque reconstruction of the abbey complex. A powerful sense of optimism prevailed in Austria at that time. The Turkish danger had been averted, and the economic upswing and especially the secured freedom of faith made people want to express their joy of living and newly acquired safety in faith.”
Abbot em. Dr. Burkhard Ellegast OSB, excerpt from “Das Stift Melk” (“Melk Abbey”)
Berthold Dietmayr (born in 1670) was elected abbot of Melk abbey in 1700. With the energy of his youth, his determination and his intellectual agility Dietmayr proceeded with the necessary renovation work which resulted in a complete reconstruction of the monastery complex. Abbot Dietmayr found a congenial partner in the master builder Jakob Prandtauer, and renowned artists were chosen to create the interior decoration (among others Antonio Beduzzi, Johann Michael Rottmayr, Paul Troger, Lorenzo Mattielli). In 1738 a fire broke out which destroyed parts of the monastery and the church towers. This blow took away abbot Dietmayr’s strength. He died in 1739. His successors completed the Baroque reconstruction. In addition to the progress in the construction, scientific and cultural life also blossomed in the monastery. Historians like Anselm Schramb, Philibert Hueber and the brothers Pez or the musicians Robert Kimmerling, Marian Paradeiser and Johann Georg Albrechtsberger were famous well beyond the walls of Melk abbey.
Abbot Berthold Dietmayr was held in high esteem at court and at the Lower Austrian Estates. In 1706 he was appointed rector of the University of Vienna and in 1728 he became Privy Councillor of the emperor.
People in the Baroque age had this deep, almost earthy faith, so they brought the unapproachable God down to Earth and built him magnificent audience halls for which nothing could be beautiful or splendid enough. But they did not only know of splendor and the joys of human life, but were also conscious of the downside: suffering and misery, disease and death. But they brought God to Earth and had something to hold on to. Religious processions, pilgrimages, penances or veneration of relics were people’s efforts to be particularly close to God.