Monasteries of Lower Austria & Vienna - Part I
Part I: Seitenstetten - Ardagger - Zwettl - Altenburg
Stift Seitenstetten near Steyr
The small, but scenic Stift Seitenstetten (http://www.stift-seitenstetten.at/) is located in the West of Lower Austria, near the border to Upper Austria. The Benedictine abbey dates back to the 11th or 12th century, but today′s characteristic courts were built in the 17th and 18th century. Existing Romanesque-Gothic structures were upgraded to Baroque after 1630.
There is a school ("Gymnasium") associated with the monastery, which has several notable graduates (including the former Austrian president Wilhelm Miklas and Chancellor Julius Raab). It is famous for its art collection that holds 600 Gothic and Baroque paintings; and a natural history collection of minerals and gem stones from 1766. Seitenstetten′s library holds approximately 50,000 volumes.
Stift Ardagger North of Amstetten
Ardagger (http://www.stiftstaverne.at/) is a former collegiate convent that was founded around 1050. In the 12th and 13th century it became an important centre for parish work in the region of the Lower Austrian Danube. In the 17th century, it was a church of pilgrimage known for St. Ottilie.
In 1783, the convent was dissolved and the church became a parish church, which it is until today. The interiors are neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque and altogether rather unspectacular. However, Ardaggar′s claim to fame is a stained glass window from the early 13th century, which is considered to be the most important of its kind in Austria.
Stift Zwettl in Lower Austria
The large and impressive Cistercian abbey of Zwettl (http://www.stift-zwettl.at/) in the north of Lower Austria was founded in 1138. By 1200 it was already known for its "scriptorium" and scholarly tradition. Between 1427 and 1430, the monastery was destroyed by Protestants in the Hussite Wars. Following the reconstruction, Zwettl got a Gothic face. After some economic trouble in the time of reformation, Zwettl rose to its former glory and was extensively Baroque-ised in the 18th century.
Today, Zwettel is famous for its typically Cistercian architecture, the "Bärenhaut", a kind of constitution with illuminations by Abbot Ebro from the 14th century, a library holding 50,000 volumes and many Medieval manuscripts - and the tower of the Stiftskirche Church, 90 metres high and said to be the most impressive "single-tower-fašade" of the Austrian Baroque. Today, the monastery offers seminars and religious counselling guidance called "exercitia".
Stift Altenburg: Baroque glory at its Best
The Benedictine abbey of Altenburg (http://www.stift-altenburg.at/) was founded in 1144. The originally Gothic monastery soon became well-known for its scholarly tradition, transmitted through an associated Latin school. Between 1304 and 1480 it was repeatedly devastated by Bohemians, Hungarians, Hussites, and Moravians - by 1552, it was almost completely extinguished. The remaining bits were sacked again, in 1597 by protestant farmers, in 1645 by Swedish troops.
After that, a reconstruction was not feasible and Abbot Benedikt Leiß started to rebuild the abbey from scratch. Between 1729 and 1742, the current abbey was built in elaborate Baroque style with rich interiors and art that reflects the spirit of the Baroque age in a unique and intense way. In the 18th, 19th and 20th century, the monastery served as a hospital for Austrian and Prussian military, a refugee camp and a Soviet army base. However, the library with some 12,000 volumes survived. After extensive renovation works, Stift Altenburg is among the most impressive monasteries of Lower Austria.
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