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Discover the Convent Of St. John Müstair And Its Museum

Last Updated on October 27, 2023 by Darla Uhl

The Convent of Saint John Müstair (Kloster St. Johann in German) is a monastery located in Müstair, the easternmost village of Switzerland bordering Bolzano, Italy. This place is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a Swiss National Heritage Site, and a 1,200-year-old active Benedictine monastery.

Image of the Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

Founded during the Carolingian period, you will find well-preserved frescoes and stuccoes in its convent church that date back to the 8th century. It is one of the most important examples of early art in Europe. In this article, we’ll talk about our impressions of the Convent of St. John Müstair and whether we believe it’s worth a visit based on our experience.

Overview: St. John Abbey

Image of Müstair in Val Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

Similar to the abbeys in Engelberg and Disentis, St. John Abbey is set in a beautiful and tranquil place within Val Müstair, a picturesque valley between Fuorn Pass and South Tyrol.

This building, in contrast to the grandeur of Melk Abbey in Austria and Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland, maintains a humble and understated appearance. Nonetheless, the monastery carries profound historical significance and stands as a remarkable testament to early medieval art.

Colorful frescoes adorn the interior walls of the church and are particularly impressive. They tell a vivid story, and visitors can spend hours admiring the intricate details.

Visitors can explore the various rooms and buildings, including the church and cloister. They have also repurposed the Plantaturm, a former episcopal residential and defensive tower, into a museum.


Architectural Overview of St. John Abbey Müstair

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St. John Abbey Müstair is also one of the most notable examples of Carolingian architecture in the world. Other significant instances of Carolingian architecture can be observed in Lorsch Abbey in Hesse, Germany, and the Palatine Chapel located in Aachen, Germany. This architecture was largely influenced by the Carolingian Empire, a European dynasty that ruled from the mid-8th century to the late 9th century.

The Carolingian Dynasty reached its zenith under Charlemagne who is called Karl der Grosse in German. You can see a statue of Charlemagne in the church between the middle and south apses. It is a symbol of medieval veneration of Charlemagne in Müstair.

Fashioned from stone, the statue portrays Charlemagne donning a crown, knee-length belted tunic, and a horseman’s mantle embellished with pearls. He is also depicted holding an orb and scepter. The statue likely dates back to around 1165 AD.

Over the centuries, the monastery has been expanded and renovated multiple times. As a result, parts of the monastery represent different architectural styles, including Carolingian, Ottonian, Early Gothic, Late Gothic, and Baroque.

Image of the Wall Frescoes, Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

Today, visitors can explore the monastery’s rich history and architecture by visiting the church and the museum. The true standout here is definitely the original Carolingian frescoes adorning the walls.

Throughout the church walls, you’ll encounter frescoes adorning the vaulted ceiling. The entire painting cycle within the church was completed in 800. According to Klostermuseum Müstair, these remarkable artworks were uncovered and meticulously watercolored by Joseph Zemp and Robert Durrer. The frescoes on the eastern wall were also fully repainted in 1200.1

What you can expect to see are scenes and images of extraordinary quality and artistic value. The cycle commences in the southeast, narrating the story of King David. It also portrays scenes from the life of Jesus Christ, including his childhood, miraculous works, passion, and ascension.

Additionally, you’ll find depictions of the Second Coming of Christ. In the central apse, the life and death of the monastery’s patron, John the Baptist, are showcased. You will also see representations of the apostles Peter, Paul, and the martyr Stephen.


Our Experience: Review of St. John Monastery Müstair

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The Müstair Monastery is a fascinating place to visit and offers a unique experience for tourists. Here are some important details based on our visitor experience.

Arriving at St. John Monastery was easy since it wasn’t crowded at all. We got our tickets, stored our things in the lockers, and headed to the church entrance. We didn’t take a guided tour, but they gave us a pamphlet and a children’s activity to help us get around.

Both the church and convent museum were straightforward to navigate. The church is a bit dark because of its design and the lack of large stained glass windows, but there’s a light switch at the back to brighten it up. I recommend turning it on to see the frescoes better.

Image of the Nun’s Dormitory, Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

When you’re done admiring the frescoes, ring the bell at the grey door behind the church. They’ll hear you at the ticket office and let you into the museum. The museum’s entrance door serves as the exit door as well.

Once inside, you can move around as you like. I recommend that you start on the ground floor to see the frescoes and stones, then head to the topmost floor where the nun’s dormitory is located. You’ll get a glimpse of how the nuns lived, what the bedrooms looked like, and various statues. Then work your way down until you reach the exit.

The museum is just like you’d imagine a convent museum – it has religious items, details about its history, and a glimpse into their daily life. It was pretty much what I expected, and nothing particularly surprised me.

Part of the museum has a temporary exhibit, which changes. The museum was very serious and quiet, and it had more reading materials than interactive stuff. It’s a place for quiet reflection. After your visit, you can also go to the courtyard with the small garden if you’d like.

Image of the Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair by TouringSwitzerland.com

Would I recommend visiting the St. John Müstair Convent? I think those who appreciate history, art, and architecture will enjoy it. Religious pilgrims, educators, students, tourists, and researchers will also likely find it quite interesting.

Very young children, individuals with no interest in history or art, and adventure seekers will likely not appreciate it. It could also be a bit challenging for people with mobility issues. While there are parts accessible to them, there are some old rooms they might miss out on.

Personally, I enjoyed visiting St. John Müstair and learning about their lives. But I’m always interested in history and art, so that’s not surprising. If possible, I would recommend joining a guided tour. The tour guides are knowledgeable and provide a wealth of information about the monastery’s history, architecture, and artwork. The frescoes, in particular, have many details that become clearer with extra information.


How to Get to the Convent Of St. John Müstair

The Convent Of St. John Müstair is located in the picturesque village of Müstair, which is situated in the eastern Swiss Alps. The nearest international airport to the monastery is Zurich Airport, which is approximately a three-hour drive away.

Visitors can also reach the monastery by public transport. First, you will have to get to Zernez by train. From Zernez, you can then take the bus, with the bus stopping directly in front of the monastery.

AddressVia Maistra 18
7537 Müstair
BusMüstair, Clostra Son Jon

The monastery is open to visitors year-round, with varying hours depending on the season. Visitors should check the monastery’s website for the most up-to-date information on opening hours and admission fees.


Final Thoughts: St. John Monastery Müstair

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In conclusion, the Convent of St. John in Müstair is an exceptional historical site that offers a unique glimpse into the past. The monastery’s Carolingian architecture, artwork, and religious artifacts are all well-preserved, making it a fantastic option for history and art enthusiasts.

I recommend visiting the convent if you are into history, art, and architecture. You might also want to visit it if you are in the region around the Swiss National Park or Val Müstair, especially during a rainy day. The monastery also has a gift shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs and religious artifacts.


Resources

  • 1 Schnell + Steiner. Wandmalereien der Kirche. Klostermuseum St. Johann Müstair: UNESCO WELTERBE.

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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.

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