Stift Melk - UNESCO-Welterbe

Heritage & Task

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In 976 Otto II gave the Eastern March as a fief to the Babenberg family to secure the borders of his empire towards the East. The Babenbergs succeeded in expanding and securing the march towards the North and East. In the Eastern March there were several fortified centers which constituted military, spiritual and economic centers and offered protection to the populace. In the fortress of Melk, the Babenbergs already had a spiritual community of canons regular.

When Melk lost some of its importance due to the expansion of the march towards the East, Leopold II decided to convert the fortress into a monastery. At that time Saint Coloman, the patron saint of the march, and some of Austria’s first rulers – the margraves Henri I, Adalbert and Ernst – had already been buried in Melk. Leopold II brought Benedictines monks from Lambach in Upper Austria to Melk so that they would pray at the grave of the Babenberg family and continue the work to establish Melk as a spiritual center of the region.

On March 21st, 1089 the Austrian margrave Leopold II of Babenberg (1075-1095) gave the church and the fortress on the rock of Melk to the first Benedictine abbot Sigibold and his monks. Ever since, monks have been living in Melk abbey, without interruption, following the rule of Saint Benedict. In Melk abbey’s library there is still the rule book which the first monks brought from their original monastery, a manuscript which is now over 1000 years old.

Despite some external difficulties the monastery prospered. The annals of the monastery and the Melk Song of the Virgin Mary survived the terrible fire of 1297 and testify to the monks’ activity at that time. The abbey had a scriptorium, and the monastery school for choir-boys dates back as far as 1160.