In the heart of St. Gallen, Switzerland, you’ll find the beautiful Abbey Saint Gall. Located in the canton and city of St. Gallen in northeastern Switzerland, it is a religious complex that includes a Catholic Cathedral and Abbey Library. There was a monastery there previously, but it has since been dissolved.
The harsh Protestant Reformation in Switzerland left a lot of big churches with simple, unadorned decor. But St. Gallen’s Cathedral and Library stand out as a stunning building of its era. As one would expect from a Catholic cathedral of its caliber, St. Gallen’s Cathedral is ornate and beautiful.
History of the Abbey of Saint Gall
The Abbey of Saint Gall was built on the site where Irish monk Gallus lived. Following Gallus’ death, Charles Martel, the founder of the Carolingian dynasty, entrusted a different monk, Saint Othmar, with taking care of his relics. Saint Othmar then established the monastery in 719.
The Abbey of Saint Gall soon became known for its arts, letters, and science. During the 9th century, the church and library were expanded. The Cathedral of St. Gallen also withstood the Reformation and the French Revolution. Eventually, it would be one of the biggest cultural centers in Europe.
The Abbey and its monastery grew enormously in size and wealth and became a religious duchy ruled by a prince-bishop. It went into a slow decline in late medieval times.
Decline of the Abbey of Saint Gall
As the Abbey became more involved in local politics in the late Middle Ages, it began to decline. In the late 15th century, the city of St. Gallen was freed from the rule of the abbot. Eventually, after two centuries, the abbey itself was secularized. The monks of St. Gallen transferred to other abbeys.
While the monks have already moved out, the abbey’s legacy lives on in the cathedral, its manuscripts, and other works housed in its library and other buildings.
Architecture of St. Gallen Cathedral
Both the St. Gallen Cathedral and Abbey Library were designed by Peter Thumb, an Austrian architect from its westernmost state Vorarlberg. It was built by Johann Michael Beer von Bildstein from 1755 to 1767. Since the monastery was founded in the 8th century, it’s been rebuilt a few times.
There are only two parts of the Abbey of Saint Gall that most people can see: the Cathedral and the Library Hall. These buildings are some of the best examples of Swiss Baroque architecture at the Abbey of Saint Gall.
The Rococo style combines white and pastel patterns, sculpted moldings, and frescos in an exceptionally ornamental and theatrical way. With its pastel green and white colors and beautiful frescos, the St. Gallen Cathedral is exactly like that.
Among the beautiful masterpieces that you will find in here are the baroque confessionals designed by artists Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer and Anton Dirr, the Romanesque crypts under the cathedral, the late baroque pulpits by Anton Dirr, the throne and 84 golden walnut wood chairs designed by Franz Joseph Anton Feuchtmayer, and the high altar painting (1645) by Francesco Romanelli.1
The Abbey Library of St. Gallen is known as one of the oldest, most important, and most beautiful libraries in the world.
Abbey of Saint Gall: UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Abbey of Saint Gall was founded in 719. This Abbey with its medieval library was one of the most important Carolingian monasteries in Europe.
Together with the Convent of St. John at Müstair and the Old Town of Bern, the Abbey of St. Gall was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list back in 1983.
The Convent of St Gall, a perfect example of a great Carolingian monastery, was, from the 8th century to its secularization in 1805, one of the most important in Europe.UNESCO World Heritage List
Due to its well-preserved cultural significance, the Abbey of Saint Gall is a significant cultural heritage in Switzerland.
The Abbey Library
The Abbey Library (Stiftsbibliothek in German) and its archives are among the oldest, richest, and most beautiful in the world. It was founded by Saint Othmar and built between 1758 and 1767. The library houses an incredible collection of illuminated manuscripts from the early and late Middle Ages.
Over the years, the Abbey Library has become a center for academic and religious studies thanks to its almost 160,000 volumes. For most visitors, the main attraction of the library won’t be the books themselves, but the main hall, with its beautiful, ornate Rococo style.
It’s one of the most beautiful Rococo halls in Switzerland and all over the world.
How to go to the Abbey of Saint Gall
Abbey of Saint Gall: Travel by Train
To get to the Abbey of Saint Gall, simply take the train to St. Gallen. There are many direct trains to St. Gallen. You can reach it directly from most Swiss cities.
From the train station, it is a 10-minute walk northeast towards the Klosterhof where you will see the Abbey of Saint Gall and the Library.
Below are the expected travel times with direct trains from other Swiss cities to St. Gallen:
- Zurich to St. Gallen – in 57 to 59 minutes
- Lucerne to St. Gallen – in 2 hours 13 minutes
- Bern to St. Gallen – 2 hours 21 minutes
- Lausanne to St. Gallen – 3 hours 32 minutes
- Geneva to St. Gallen – 3 hours 47 minutes
Abbey of Saint Gall: Travel by Car
For those coming by car, you can park at the following city parking areas:
- Cityparking Burggraben – Burggraben 16, 9000 St. Gallen
- Parkgarage Spisertor – Moosbruggstrasse 5, 9000 St. Gallen
- Parkgarage Spiesertor – Burggraben 6, 9000 St. Gallen
- Parkgarage Oberer Graben – Oberer Graben 42, 9000 St. Gallen
Visiting St. Gallen
You might also want to walk around St. Gallen after visiting the Abbey of Saint Gall and the library.
You can walk through the old town, discover museums, and enjoy the charm of this charming city on your trip to Switzerland.
In addition to the Abbey and the Library, St. Gallen also hosts the Dominican Abbey of St. Katharina, the Textile Museum, and the St. Gallen State Archive.
1 Dorling Kindersley Verlag GmbH. St. Gallen Kathedrale. Schweiz. 2011/2012.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.