The best-kept Swiss secret

The Abbey of St. Gall and its impressive historical collections are home to Switzerland’s oldest library and have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. In fact, it’s one of the first three sites in Switzerland to have been recognized by UNESCO.

A visit is a miracle of transmission. Experience 1400 years of cultural history as you dive into the wonderous exhibitions inside the Abbey Library’s Baroque Hall (don’t miss the faithful replica of the 16th-century St. Gallen Globe), its Vaulted Cellar, and Abbey Archive, and discover the unique treasure of 170,000 precious manuscripts, documents, and prints—many of which are handwritten and over a thousand years old.

Nestled in the city of St. Gall in northeastern Switzerland, some seven miles south of Lake Constance, the Abbey’s cathedral, with its imposing twin towers, is a city landmark. From the 8th century until its secularization in 1805, this outstanding example of a large Carolingian monastery was one of Europe’s most important cultural centers. As one of the last monumental constructions of Baroque abbatial churches in the West, it represents years of history of monastic architecture and is typical of a large Benedictine convent ensemble. Despite the hodgepodge of architectural styles, from the High Middle Ages to 19th c. historicism, all represented in exemplary fashion, the ensemble gives the impression of overall unity.

Inside, its lavish Rococo decorations—wooden balconies in flowering shapes, a flamboyant ceiling painting, and the library hall, designed by Austrian architect Peter Thumb and constructed between 1758-67—are unrivaled in its beauty and represent one of the most exquisite examples of the Baroque era. It replaces a building that was constructed in 1553 for the library in the Abbey’s west wing. The entrance to the library carries a Greek inscription that means “the healing place of the soul”.

In addition to the architectural substance, the inestimable cultural values conserved at the Abbey complex are of exceptional importance, notably: the Irish manuscripts of the 7th and 8th centuries (the Abbey was built upon the original hermitage of Irish monk Gall, who became a Saint); the illuminated manuscripts of the St. Gall School of the 9th and 11th centuries; documents concerning the history of the origins of Alemannic Switzerland; as well as the earliest-known architectural plan of the Benedictine complex drawn on parchment, dating back to the Carolingian era, i.e., Early Middle Ages.

Visit the Abbey and its library, locally known as Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, open daily, and book a guided tour to learn all about it in glorious detail.
Marvel at the Abbey Library's baroque hall
Marvel at the Abbey Library’s baroque hall, © Switzerland Tourism.

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