St. Gallen, Part II: The Abbey and Library

One cannot be a tourist in St. Gallen without seeing the Abbey and visiting its amazing library. After our Brückenweg hike, the PostBus dropped us off at the HB (Hauptbahnhof), where we wandered the town, which, as you might expect, is quite charming. In the year 720, a priest built an abbey at the site of the hermitage of the Irish monk Gallus who had lived there a hundred years earlier. The town grew up around the Abbey. So, yeah, it’s pretty old.

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Main Train Station, St. Gallen

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The Abbey of St. Gall is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and consists of an entire complex of buildings with a large quadrangle in the middle. We could not go into the church because of a wedding, but I have a confession. I know we will have so many opportunities to see church interiors this year, and I am not a fan of Baroque architecture. Blech. There, I admitted it. We saw some photos of the interior, and that was good enough for me.

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The main church

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However, the very best part of this complex is the world-renowned library, the Stiftsbibliotek. We were not allowed to photograph inside, but you can see pictures from the internet here. Now that I’ve admitted my distaste for Baroque architecture, I have to say I really enjoyed this Baroque library. First of all, it’s a library. Second of all, they have exhibits of some of their Medieval books (their collection has books from as far back as the 8th century) which are so interesting that I read every description. The scribes drew pictures in some places to test out their quills or nibs. They patched torn places of the vellum (parchment from animal skins). At the end of many books were notes by the scribes saying they hoped the reader found the book worthwhile and would forgive any mistakes. Other endnotes often said (and I paraphrase), “I’m sure glad to be done copying out this long book!” Some books were written on wax, some of the bindings were totally beautiful works of art. It was easy to spend an hour in that one room.

At the back of the room is an Egyptian mummy, a gift to the town mayor in the 19th C. He didn’t know what to do with it, so this is where it ended up.

Another amazing part of the library is a replica of a large globe from the 1400s or 1500s. Why the excitement over a replica? Well, it appears that the city of Zürich, in 1712, got a number of cultural objects from the abbey library during the religious wars between the Catholics and the Reformed Cantons. St. Gallen wanted their globe back, and Zürich didn’t want to give it back. In 2006 the mediation that seemed to make everyone happy was that, at great expense and craftsmanship, Zürich had the replica made and gave it to the library and still keeps the original in the Swiss National Museum. We have been saving that museum for a rainy day, but now know one thing to be on the lookout for!

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