Stift Melk - UNESCO-Welterbe

Parishes of the Abbey

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Parishes

“And thus, too, we ask God in prayer that His will may be done in us.” RB 7,20

In addition to new challenges, the Benedictine monks in Melk still have two fundamental traditional tasks: their work as teachers and educators as well as pastoral care in their parishes.

When the Babenberg family ruled Austria, Melk abbey originally had 5 parishes. Over the centuries the number rose to 29 parishes, 23 of which are still in the pastoral care of the monastery. These historical developments have created the rather adverse situation that most of the parishes are very far away from the monastery, because they were on the periphery of the former Eastern march. Due to the acute shortage of priests as well as historical and juridical difficulties, a change in this situation is not expected anytime soon.

Original parishes / Parishes donated by margrave Leopold
When in August 1121, shortly before his death, bishop Ulrich of Passau signed the “Melker Stiftsbrief” (letter of endowment), in which the consecration and the dotation of Melk abbey by margrave Leopold II were stipulated and confirmed on 13th October 1113, a series of exchanges had preceded this act. The retroactively executed deed documents the donations of the margrave’s ancestors as well as the properties, tithing rights and parishes which the Babenberg family acquired for the monastery through different transactions before or after 1113 with the help and the contribution of the bishop.
Among these were five parishes with the respective rights of patronage and proceeds: Wullersdorf, Ravelsbach, Weikendorf, Traiskirchen and Mödling.
In all likelihood Lassee became a parish in the 12th century and came to Melk shortly after the letter of endowment had been signed.

Foundations between 1100 and 1700
In the 13th and 14th century, the parish network was expanded by founding a series of succursal churches (Gainfarn, Bad Vöslau, Grillenberg, Groißenbrunn, Großriedenthal, Haugsdorf, Leobersdorf, Oberweiden and Rohrendorf) within the domain of Melk’s original parishes. Reasons for this were the increasing population, the size of the original parish territories, and the prolific donation activities of aristocratic benefactors.

The parish of Melk was probably founded before 1089 – before the foundation of Melk abbey – by the bishopric of Passau. The first parish church, dedicated to Saint Stephen, stood on a hill east of today’s monastery building and is mentioned for the first time in 1165. Since it was too far away from the center and the parish priest didn’t live there, the parish life took place in the market town. In the middle of the 15th century the people of Melk began to build a church of Saint Mary in the town center which was consecrated, together with a graveyard, in 1497 and elevated to parish church. It wasn’t until 1693 that Melk contractually became an abbey parish.

Parishes founded by Joseph II
When Joseph II began to examine the dioceses and parishes as part of his big reform program, he renewed religious practices and institutions and also modernized the parish network according to “reasonable” considerations. The guideline that no parishioner should walk longer than one hour to Mass required the establishment of many new parishes. This was a very expensive undertaking, because it often involved the new construction of a church, a rectory and a school. Furthermore, the furnishings had to be financed; additional priests, chaplains and sometimes also teachers needed to be hired and paid. The support of the new parishes was imposed on the holder of the rights of patronage of the mother church, which amounted to an enormous financial and personnel burden for the abbey.

As of 1783 the restructuring was implemented and Melk abbey had to establish new parishes and filial churches which were basically equivalent to parishes. The parishes of Untermarkersdorf, Immendorf, Zwerndorf, Alberndorf, Matzendorf, Matzleinsdorf, Prottes and Untersiebenbrunn were founded in the time of Joseph II and still belong to the abbey.