St Gallen, Switzerland: Abbey of St Gallen Cathedral and Library

The monastery of St. Gallen was the heart city by the same name in the valley near Lake Constance. As the story goes, in the year 612, an Irish monk name Gallus, stumbled and fell at the edge of the Steinach River. He saw a bear eyeing him, hungrily. He offered the bear some of his bread and, in return, the bear brought him a log to help him build a shelter.

Many churches in Switzerland are depressingly plain, thanks to the Protestant reformation, but the Cathedral at St Gallen, built between 1755 and 1766, shines as a rare example of late Baroque architecture.

The high nave is opulently painted and adorned with elaborate stucco reliefs. The rich painting of the dome portrays Paradise and the eight Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount. The tomb of St Gallus, containing a piece of his skull, is in the east crypt. Look for the seated figure of St Gallus, always seen holding his bear.

Library of the Abbey of Saint Gallen

Library of the Abbey of Saint Gallen

Even more ornate in style and of perhaps more historical importance is the Abbey Library, one of the oldest and most stunningly beautiful in the world. Located in the west wing of the former monastery, the library was built between 1758 and 1767 to house the already priceless collection of manuscripts from the early and later middle ages. In addition to the religious manuscripts are documents from the Renaissance and later from the history of arts, music, literature and medicine. Containing 150,000 volumes the library still serves as a scientific and religious research center, but for tourists the main attraction of the library is its elaborate, richly molded main room, one of the most beautiful rococo interiors in Switzerland and perhaps the world.

An inscription in Greek over the entrance reads “Medicine of the Soul”. A couple of curious attractions in the library are a 7th Century B.C. Egyptian mummy, in her wooden sarcophagus, and a giant astronomical globe, reconstructed from an earlier one (at a cost of over a million francs). Manuscripts on display change from time to time, among them an original of the legends of the Nibelungen, which inspired the ring fantasies of both Richard Wagner and J.R.R. Tolkien.

Abbey of St Gallen Cathedral 5

Abbey of St Gallen



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