A Quick Guide to Einsiedeln Abbey and the Black Madonna

One of Switzerland’s most important Catholic pilgrimage sites is the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln. The monastery was founded in 835 CE by a Benedictine monk and hermit Saint Meinrad. It is located in the village of Einsiedeln, Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland. 

Featuring a Baroque exterior, Einsiedeln Abbey is one of Switzerland’s most important pilgrimage sites.

Image of Einsiedeln Abbey by TouringSwitzerland.com

Einsiedeln Abbey also has an elaborate monastic complex and library, a diocesan school, a garden, and a wine cellar. Also in the abbey is a stable for horses of the Einsiedeln breed, one of Europe’s oldest. Its library archives have books, photos, and documents.

The most popular festival for pilgrims is the Einsiedeln Angel Consecration Festival (Einsiedler Engelweihe in German) on September 14th. Its origins come from a medieval legend which says that Jesus Christ personally consecrated the chapel together with angels and saints on the night of September 13th to 14th in the year 948.

Saint Meinrad and the beginnings of Einsiedeln Abbey

Statue of Saint Meinrad in Einsiedeln by TouringSwitzerland.com

Einsiedler means hermit in German, and the abbey in Einsiedeln was built to honor St. Meinrad, a hermit who lived there. 

Einsiedeln Abbey (Kloster Einsiedeln in German) is a baroque Benedictine monastery with a long history. A Benedictine hermit and monk named Saint Meinrad founded it around 835 CE. This is definitely one of Switzerland’s most beautiful monastic structures.  

Meinrad (called Meginrat in Alemannic) was born in Sülchgau, Germany, in the year 800. In 827, he left Reichenau and went to the area around Lake Zurich. The area around Etzel was known for its peace and quiet and he lived here until 835. His hermitage was built before he was killed by two thieves in 861. The first church on this site was built after Meinrad’s assassination. 

Einsiedeln Abbey is located on the exact spot where Saint Meinrad occupied his room. 

St. Meinrad’s remains were transferred from Reichenau to Einsiedeln following his canonization as a saint in 1039 AD. This greatly increased the importance of Einsiedeln as a place of worship and pilgrimage.

Building the Einsiedeln Abbey

Image of Einsiedeln Monastery by TouringSwitzerland.com

This Abbey was founded and built by Eberhard (Eberhard von Einsiedeln), likely a descendant of the Counts of Alsace. He took over from Saint Meinrad after he was killed. The Benedictine Monastery expanded thanks to him, and he became its first abbot.

In 935 CE, Duchess and Otto I of Swabia (890-958 CE) supported the establishment of the monastery at Einsiedeln. In 948, the monastery church and chapel were inaugurated. The monastic community then numbered 40 monks. Here’s where Einsiedeln Abbey Church stands today.

After its founding, Einsiedeln became a popular pilgrimage site along the Way of St. James.

Ufenau Island was gifted by Otto I to the Einsiedeln Monastery. Image taken by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Einsiedeln Monastery also got Ufenau Island (also called Ufnau) near Pfäffikon Schwyz, as well as the neighboring towns of Pfäffikon Schwyz and Meilen Zürich, from Otto I. Until today, Ufenau Island is still held by Einsiedeln Monastery. There is a medieval church and a restaurant on the island.

The area surrounding Alp, Sihl, and Biber also became part of the monastery’s territory. Unfortunately, half of these gifts from Otto I to Einsiedeln Monastery got fought over and taken by Schwyz. 

Black Madonna and Marian Devotion at Einsiedeln Abbey

Image of the Black Madonna from wikimedia

For more than a thousand years, the Black Madonna at Einsiedeln Abbey has also been a center of Marian devotion in Switzerland. As soon as you enter Einsiedeln Abbey, you’ll see a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. At the rear of the church is this Madonna Chapel, where a Black Madonna rests. 

The Black Madonna, made of limewood, arrived at the holy chapel in 1466. Her predecessor was destroyed in a fire in 1456. A child rests in the Black Madonna’s left hand. 

During the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the Black Madonna was moved several times. Prior to going to Haggenegg, the Monastery of St. Peter in Bludenz, and St. Gerold’s Provotory, the Black Madonna was hidden at Alpthal. The Black Madonna was restored in St. Gerold.

The Black Madonna returned to its chapel home in Einsiedeln in 1803.

Architecture & Collection of Einsiedeln Abbey

Einsiedeln Abbey is the biggest baroque masterpiece in Switzerland. For many people, this Benedictine abbey is a sacred pilgrimage site, a religious and cultural gathering place. Kaspar Moosbrugger designed it. It was built from 1704 to 1780.

There’s a semicircular, big courtyard in front of Einsiedeln Abbey. The fountain in front honors the honorable Virgin Mary.

Image from wikimedia

The Einsiedeln Abbey Church has two towers and a nice facade. Once you enter it, you’ll be greeted by its beautiful baroque architecture. A large number of windows provide ample light to enter the interior of the church.

Additionally, Aegid Quirin Asam (stucco and pulpit) and Cosmas Damian Asam (ceiling frescoes) contributed to the appearance of the white, gold, and pastel interiors.

In the church’s rear, there is a chapel where you can pray before Black Madonna.

How to get to Einsiedeln Abbey

By TrainEinsiedeln, Bahnhof, then a 10-minute walk
By Bus Einsiedeln, Klosterplatz
By CarParking lot vis-à-vis the Einsiedeln Abbey or Parkhaus Brüel AG Einsiedeln

Final Words: Einsiedeln Abbey

Einsiedeln Abbey is a beautiful baroque structure with a long history as a pilgrimage site. As it is quite close to Zurich, it makes for a great day trip for those living or visiting the area. 

You can visit the Einsiedeln Abbey Church daily from 6:00 AM to 8:30 PM.

Resource

  • Salzgeber, Joachim. Die kulturelle Bedeutung des Klosters Einsiedeln, Band 142, Heft 7, p. 595, 1991. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Forstwesen.

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