Liber viventium Fabariensis, f. 24,25, Pfäfers Abbey, 815. Collection St. Gall Library. Photo: TES, copy from P. Erhart, J. Kuratli Hüeblin, Bücher des Lebens-Lebendige Bücher (St. Gall, 2010).

Swiss Monasteries and St. Gall

The Abbey Library of the former Benedictine monastery of St. Gall is not only a museum and architectural beauty but also a professional library for the study of (medieval) manuscripts, history and life.

The abbey was founded by the Irish monk Gallus (550-646) in 612. He erected a hermitage on this site. It was around 719 that Otmar (r. 690-759) extended the wooden building into an abbey.

By the ninth century, the monastery had already acquired considerable religious, scholarly, political and economic influence and became one of the leading cultural centres of Latin Christianity. It became the most famous monastery of what is now the Swiss Confederation in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The dissolution of the abbey in 1805 (during the French Napoleonic period) led to the involvement of the newly founded Canton of St. Gall.

The Baroque hall of the library is considered to be one of the most elegant library buildings in the world. The library possesses about 170 000 works and 2100 medieval manuscripts, of which 400 are from before the year 1000.

These manuscripts form the basis of European cultural and intellectual history. The collection includes biblical and liturgical studies and illuminated manuscripts, works on music, (ancient) literature, history, law, medicine, natural science and the oldest written heritage of the Old High German language.

The collection of incunabula (works printed before 1520) is also impressive. The medieval monasteries of Latin Europe saved European culture from oblivion, and Swiss monasteries played a prominent role  (Source and further information: