Locations

Abbey Church

The centrepiece of the Baroque Melk Abbey complex is its Abbey Church, or Stiftskirche. In keeping with the wishes of the abbot and the monastic community, the church makes tangible the complex’s religious purpose and orientation towards God. Initial plans only envisaged a “Baroquisation” of the original church. However, in 1701 Abbot Berthold Dietmayr initiated a complete reconstruction of the building based on plans by Jakob Prandtauer. Abbot Dietmayr managed to recruit the most prominent masters of their disciplines to decorate the church: Antonio Beduzzi (interior architecture, sketches for the frescoes), Johann Michael Rottmayr (frescoes, altar paintings), Paul Troger (altar paintings), Giuseppe Galli-Bibiena (designs for the pulpit and high altar), Lorenzo Mattielli (designs for the sculptures), and Peter Widerin (sculptures).

The church is a barrel-vaulted hall with side chapels and galleries topped by an imposing 64-metre-high dome and cupola. In the ostentatious interior, lavishly adorned with gold leaf, stucco and marble, the colours gold, ochre, orange, green and grey predominate. The theatre architect Antonio Beduzzi provided the main ideas and designs for the construction. More down-to-earth artists realised his plans. The inscription on the high altar sums up the Melk Abbey Church: “NON CORONABITUR NISI LEGATINE CERTAVERIT” (“No-one shall be crowned unless he has striven lawfully”).

A symbol of this victorious struggle is visible in the enormous golden crown hovering above the apostolic princes, Peter and Paul. This signifies the martyrdom of the two church patrons as a victory for the Christian cause. The two apostles are surrounded by sculptures of prophets from the Old Testament. God the Father sits enthroned above them, beneath another symbol of victory – the cross. This motif of the church victorious is continued in the grand frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr on the ceiling of the Presbytery depicting various allegorical scenes. The ceiling frescoes in the nave from 1722 are also by Rotmayr, based on designs by Beduzzi: the “Via Triumphalis” of St. Benedict into heaven. Rottmayr’s paintings on the dome (1716–1717) depict the “Heavenly Jerusalem” with God the Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost high up in the cupola. They are surrounded by apostles, Mary and a host of saints who have particular importance for Melk.

The two altars in the transepts are arranged symmetrically in relation to one another. They are based on designs by Beduzzi and are dedicated to the two main saints of the Abbey, Coloman and Benedict. The left side-altar houses a sarcophagus containing the remains of St Coloman. In order to maintain the symmetry, the right side-altar, dedicated to Benedict, has a cenotaph. The arrangement of figures on this altar depicts the death of St Benedict amid his brother monks. On the opposite side, there is a sculpture on the Coloman altar showing Benedict in prayer. Beduzzi was also responsible for designing the side-altars in the nave. These are dedicated to the saints Sebastian, Nicholas, John the Baptist, Michael, the Magi and Leopold. Rottmayr painted the altarpieces for Michael and the Magi in 1723, and that for the John the Baptist altar in 1727. Paul Troger painted the images for the Sebastian and Nicolas altars in 1746. The oldest altarpiece, that on the Leopold altar, is from 1650. Georg Bachmann painted it on a tin plate.

In 1976, the installation of a “People’s Altar”, arranged so the priest now faced the congregation, paid tribute to both the modernising impulses of the Second Vatican Council and the Baroque ideal of creating something new. The Viennese architect Helmut Hütter constructed an altar podium in the crossing using geometric figures, a common device in church interiors, especially on the floor. By choosing a form that blends in with the stalls and the floor tiles, he harmonically incorporates this unique object into the Baroque whole.

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Abbey Church

Kolomanisaal

The large, former Abbey hall extends over two floors. It has also served as a theatre and student chapel. Sheaves of pilasters and painted fluting divide the space; the wall sections, overdoors and alcoves are painted with stone-coloured and bronze ornaments. Some of the window reveals on the north side contain busts of busts of Austrian rulers.

Hippolytoi Sconzani first painted the hall’s vaulted ceiling in 1719, but the fresco was destroyed in a fire in 1738. In 1744 Gaetano Fanti, with his son’s assistance, began painting the oval, monochrome legend scenes, architecturally framed in cartouches, for which Paul Troger created his last ceiling image at Melk in 1745. The thematic model for this was the altarpiece from the Leopold altar in the old Abbey Church. The Abbey’s saints – Leopold, Coloman, Benedict and the apostolic princes Peter and Paul – float on clouds above a depiction of the Abbey before the Baroque renovation. They offer up the Abbey to God the Father for his blessing. On the terrestrial plane, Margrave Leopold I, carrying a banner-bearing spear on his shoulder, looks up from the left edge to St Leopold.

The first member of the House of Babenberg is accompanied by a canon, a reference to the Abbey tradition, since Leopold I’s time, of housing a collegiate church in the Melk castle. Chronos, with the symbols of the scythe and the hourglass, floats above the group. Opposite, Margrave Leopold II points to the Abbey, granting it to Abbot Sigibold and his Benedictines (in 1089). Along the lower edge, the allegorical figures of Architecture and Fama, announcing the fame of the building’s patron, present the plan of the new Abbey complex. Right at the bottom, angels carry a cartouche with the coats of arms of the Abbey, of Abbot Berthold Dietmayr and Abbot Adrian Pliemel, who commissioned the fresco. 

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Kolomanisaal

Gartenpavillion

In 1747–1748, Franz Munggenast built the Garden Pavilion as a space for the fathers to relax and recuperate. The Abbey observed strict fasting periods, and this facility was intended to promote both the psychological and physical health of its inhabitants. Medical procedures of the time involved bleeding and various purging treatments. After these cures, the monks needed fortification. Of the Abbey’s contingent of monks, one group was always continuing with normal Abbey life and singing the choral prayers while another was recuperating. The Garden Pavilion was built for this purpose, entirely in keeping with the intellectual world of the Baroque period.

The ceiling fresco in the Garden Pavilion is by Johann Wenzel Bergl (1718– 1789), a pupil of Paul Troger and Franz Anton Maulbertsch; it depicts the triumph of the light. At the centre of the heavenly vault, the sun shines; above it, we see a zodiacal arch with the signs of the months for the three joyous seasons, spring, summer and autumn. The youthful form of spring, crowned with flowers, rides in, bathed in sunlight, in a triumphal carriage. Underneath are summer, crowned in ears of wheat, and autumn with a cornucopia, from which a rich harvest flows. Winter follows them carrying a lowered torch, which, symbolising the north wind, blows out rain and snow before it. The seasons echo through four medallions within the architectural paintings: on the north side, to the right, putti dig up the earth (spring); on the south side, to the left, they cut up the harvest (summer); on the south side, to the right, they press wine (autumn), and on the north side, to the left, they ride in sledges (winter).

On the edges of the frescoes one sees the four continents then known in Europe. On the north side, opposite the main entrance, is the Tyrian princess Europa, whom Zeus, taking the form of a bull, abducted to Crete. She is easily recognisable as Empress Maria Theresa; the imperial insignia and eagle also recall the Holy Roman Empire. The numerous arts and sciences (not only music, sculpture, astronomy and painting but also the art of war) illustrate this continent’s primacy.

In the east, the figure of Asia is represented by an oriental prince, whose sceptre and turban recall the Turkish Empire; he is surrounded by courtiers, scribes and bound slaves. A Chinese emissary offers up gifts. In the south, Africa is symbolised by a Moorish prince holding a beautiful horse by the reins; exotic animals and plants surround him alongside figures with jewels and pearls; in the background is a pyramid with the symbols of Islam and heathen religions. To the west, America is represented with undifferentiated depictions Indians and black people; an elephant (!) symbolises the continent’s fauna. A Spanish explorer exchanges goods with the locals.

The putti in the frescoes above the door represent the five senses. Taste, the most important of them in this place of feasts and revelry, appears twice: as drinking (in the south) and eating (in the north). Alongside the latter in the north is touch on the left and smell on the right; in the south, sight on the right and hearing on the left. The frescoes over the two niches show, on the left, Abbot Thomas Pauer in a medallion; his time in office saw the start of the Pavilion’s construction in 1747. He died, however, before its completion. This is the reason for the presence of Chronos with the hourglass. The medallion on the right contains Abbot Urban Hauer, who oversaw the completion of the construction. Consequently, there is an angel proclaiming his fame on a horn. Below is the architect of the Pavilion, Franz Munggenast, and left the artist Johann Wenzel Bergl, who painted the frescoes in 1764. The frescoes in the other rooms depict exotic scenes (for example, in the eastern room, the discovery of America, exotic animals and fruits).

The Bergl frescoes confront us with the joy of life, with voluptuous painting of exotic plants and animals, paradisiacal surroundings and loving harmonies. It is unimportant whether Bergl’s fantasies depict grand iconographic ideas that act as an earthly counterpart to the spiritual realm of the Abbey and the church. The paintings simply express a Baroque mentality that expressed itself even in a place of asceticism. The piety of this period had a very earthly accent, as did these people’s attitude toward life. 

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Gartenpavillion

Stiftspark

The Baroque Abbey Park with the Garden Pavilion was laid out in 1743 and was probably originally decorated with Baroque ornamental arrangements of flowers, plants and gravel. Its design is not only a product of the physical landscape but also the period’s idea of a “paradisiacal” garden.

Before it was created, the area was relatively impassable, covered with vines and fruit trees. The original level was lower, about that of the current entrance. The area of today’s Garden Pavilion was raised in order to create a higher viewpoint over the Danube. Symmetry was very important in the Baroque period. This is evident in the comparison between the building and the garden: the area covered by the building correspondents more or less to the cultivated garden space. However, the garden is also based on a philosophical-theological concept.

The number three, a holy number, crops up repeatedly in the building and the park. For example, the church has three levels: the nave, the dome and the cupola. In the cupola, above the dome, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, is depicted in the form of a dove. The Abbey Park is also divided into three levels. The upper level contains a pool. Water reservoirs are generally placed on the highest level, partly for practical reasons. However, this open-air pool is also a symbol of life, which corresponds to the cupola on the dome with its depiction of the Holy Ghost, who is a symbol of life that ensures its continuation. The dome and the pool are exactly equidistant from an axis between the two “Babenberg” towers!

Shortly after 1800, the thematic precision of the Baroque complex was done away with and it was transformed into an English garden in accordance with the fashion of the time. Thereafter, the park became increasingly overgrown, with only the most basic upkeep being undertaken. In 1995, the renovation of the Abbey Park began with the aim of preserving and, where necessary, completing all the overgrown, hidden or damaged elements of both the original Baroque and the later English garden. Today, next to the Garden Pavilion, one can once again see the Honorattempel, a round neo-Baroque Pavilion, on the upper level of the Abbey Park and the fountain. The Baroque tiled platform was made visible again, and the old system of paths recreated in order to revive the original philosophical and metaphysical concept of the park complex.

Next to the large pool, the highest part of the Abbey Park on the third level, there is an avenue of linden trees, some of which date from the Baroque period, planted around 250 years ago. However, contemporary touches have also been added to the park since then: in the pool, for example, there is an installation by the artist Christian Philipp Müller with the title “The New World, a Type of locus amoenus”. It is an island with plants from the New World growing on it. In 2009, a “Cabinet Clairvoyée” was set up behind the Garden Pavilion as a viewing point looking out over the Danube to the west. In the northern part of the park, there is the “Benedict Way”, whose theme is “Benedict – the Blessed”. The “Garden of Paradise” was rebuilt according to the old models of the Abbey garden that contained medicinal herbs, spices and strong smelling or vibrantly coloured plants.

One part is a “Jardin méditerranéen”. This exotic Mediterranean garden is intended to recall the past use of the area of today’s Abbey restaurant: an orangery. Biblical plants were planted on the slope: fig trees and vines as well as an apple and a palm tree. 

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Stiftspark

Barockkeller

From 1650 to 1652, Abbot Valentin Embalner had a wine cellar carved out from the solid rock face beneath the current priory and the Abbey Park kitchen. The two enormous barrel vaults of the cellar remain preserved today as the “Large Baroque Cellar”. Between 1713 and 1714, Jakob Prandtauer added further cellar space to the west, underneath the priory and the prelature – the “Small Baroque Cellar”. In 1718–1720, the building above the cellars created by Abbot Embalner was torn down and replaced. In order to ensure the new building’s stability, Jakob Prandtauer reinforced the vaulting between the two cellars. Some original, unreinforced arches still remain. Later, in 1868–1869, Abbot Clemens Moser remodelled the wing above the Abbey kitchens, that is, the current joiner’s workshop, incorporating new classrooms into the Abbey’s school. Further (rectangular) columns had to be set up in the cellar to support the arch. These cellar rooms had various purposes over time. During the Turkish siege in 1683, for example, the citizens of Melk took refuge here from the invading troops. Melk Abbey was besieged by around 1,000 French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. They forced their way into the cellar and supposedly drank the Abbey’s wine stores dry. According to an entry into the Abbey chronicle from this time, Napoleon said that in Melk the wine cellar was so large that one could travel through it four-abreast. In the Second World War, the cellar was an air-raid bunker for the population of Melk. The Large Baroque Cellar was a wine cellar up until the 1970s. After the vineyards were leased out, it was used as a store room for all kinds of items, especially materials for the great restoration of the Abbey; sometimes they were piled ceiling-high. Finally the space was repurposed to hold functions. The smaller cellar built under Jakob Prandtauer remained a wine cellar until the renovation in 1998, and a small part was used as a tasting room until 1965.

Between 1998 and 2000, in preparation for the Lower Austrian state expo in 2000, both cellar areas were renovated (under the supervision of Johann Kräftner). A steep staircase was supplemented with a lift with exits at the level of the Prandtau cellar and at the lowest level. In addition to the existing staircase, a second was built on the other side of the cellar. During the construction work, the old exit into the prelate’s court was found; the new staircase was partially incorporated into this. During the works in 1998-2000, a corridor was excavated above the ice house and through the rock. This leads to a lift in the south wing of the Abbey. The project included a restoration and revitalisation of the cellar space. This meant it could be used to house part of the Lower Austrian expo “The Search for Lost Paradise: European Culture as Reflected in the Monasteries” in 2000; since 2001, it has been used for various cultural events organised by the Abbey and its school.

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Barockkeller

Dietmayrsaal

During the renovation of the south wing (1726), a small banqueting hall was built in the south-east corner of the imperial passage to accommodate imperial visits. It features heavy, probably early Baroque ceiling decorations (festoons, rocaille, rosettes and lattice patterns). The frescoes set into the ceiling were painted by the Abbey’s own painter, Johann Georg Waibl; they depict monochrome allegories of Emperor Charles VI’s idealistic claim to global rulership: in the centre of the ceiling, genii flank a globe under the eyes of God. A sceptre symbolises Austria, genii carry insignia of power, including the crowns of the various provinces.

The corner medallions are decorated with personifications of the four continents then known. Under the cornice are the stars from the coat of arms of Abbot Berthold Dietmayr, who commissioned the building. On the south wall (with the windows), the political programme is augmented by the fresco decorations under the window embrasures: above the four cardinal virtues, a medallion of Charles VI, King Solomon before the Queen of Sheba and female figures symbolising prosperity (with caduceus and cornucopia) and fame (with laurel wreath and palm leaves).

These decorations were later painted over and were only discovered to great surprise during the restorations of 1979–1980. This grand room was transformed into a theatre in 1764; there had been an older theatre in the Coloman Hall. Ornamental pilaster strips and capitals on the walls are probably by Johann Bergl, who in 1768 was working on the design of the theatre hall. His decorations were later removed, and only a few remnants of further decorative painting by Bergl were found during the restoration.

The small room to the east is separated from the theatre hall by a column; it has decorated window reveals (morning, midday, evening and night). Originally, the upper floor probably opened into the hall, as a theatre box or a space for the orchestra. 

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Dietmayrsaal

Pfarrhof Melk

LOCATION

Melk Presbytery is on a prominent site in the town centre. To the north, its imposing, late Baroque facade looks out onto the main square; the church square and the towers of the parish church are to the east, and to the south lie the rectory garden, nestled against the south wall of the carriage house and east wing, and other parts of the former town wall (in this section, only a turret, known as the “Post Tower”, remains.) To the west, neighbouring buildings cluster around the Presbytery.

HISTORY

Melk Presbytery was founded by the diocese of Passau. It was probably established in the 11th century: a priest was first appointed in 1165. The diocese transferred it to the Benedictine monastery in 1693 as part of an exchange. The first verifiable church with parish rights (St. Stephen's) was located on the ridge east of the castle and the monastery (from 1089). The arduous walk to St. Stephen's Church prompted the citizens to build a chapel in the market town itself in the late 13th century; in around 1400, it was consecrated “to the honour of Our Lady”. In 1450, construction began on the Church of the Assumption of Mary. It was completed with the installation of the altars in 1481. In 1508, it became the parish church. Its predecessor, St. Stephen's, presumably as a result of this, gradually decayed and was abandoned; its exact location is no longer known today. Few accounts of the Presbytery survive. In 1313, Father Albrecht stipulated that the “house on the hill” (now incorporated into the property at Sterngasse 19) would be used as a presbytery. In around 1575, this building came into the possession of the Springer family, leading to plans to build the Presbytery in its current location, near the parish church. The entire Presbytery was destroyed in a huge fire on 15 February 1548. This event must also have affected the old Presbytery at Sterngasse 19. With the incorporation of the parish of Melk, the Abbey also purchased the Presbytery in 1694 from the diocese of Passau. The parish records describe it as being in danger of collapsing in 1752. The Viennese architect Matthias Gerl was commissioned to design a new building. On 3 June 1752, Abbot Thomas Pauer laid the foundation stone, and the basic structure was completed by autumn that year. Another major fire in 1847 damaged the Presbytery, but catastrophe was averted: the caretaker from Luberegg and the fire hose from Leiben Manor saved the building. However, the fire destroyed the tower of the parish church including the belfry.

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Pfarrhof Melk

Schloss Pielach

Pielach was situated on the military road linking the Roman frontier (or Limes) road, later an imperial road, with Favianis (Mautern) via Melk, Lanzing and the Dunkelstein Forest.

The castle that was once the centre of a small manorial estate still stands in Pielach. The visitor enters it through an old octagonal tower. From the courtyard, it is possible to see the former park containing an island, upon which there was once another castle accessible via a bridge. However, nothing remains now of this island castle or the water. Only dry trenches betray the existence of these old defensive features. This island castle’s history goes back to the first half of the 12th century, when Reinmar, a noble official of Count von Schalla, had the Bishop of Troyes dedicate a church to St. Aegidius in 1147. At the time, the bishop was on his way to the Holy Land as a crusader. Previously, a small fortification near Schollach was misidentified as this church; its location on this island was only later definitively determined.

Ownership of Pielach Castle passed from the Pielach family to various families of knights belonging to the retinues of the Peilsteiners and the Burghausen-Schalas: the Häuslers, Plankensteiners, Topels, Zinzendorfs, Greiseneggers, Geyers and Enenkels, before, in around 1600, Ludwig von Starhemberg acquired it. A zealous Protestant, he had a “Lutheran temple” built opposite the castle, the ruins of which only disappeared in the last century. After the Protestant insurgency was crushed, Ludwig’s goods were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder. Thus Melk Abbey came into possession of the building in 1622, but by that stage it was in a parlous state.

In the Baroque era, the dilapidated building was rebuilt as a recreational and summer residence for the abbot and monks. The island castle was abandoned and the island incorporated into the park. The millstream that had fed the moat was filled in during the 1980s, so that the bridge to the tree-lined site of the island castle now merely crosses a dry ditch.

The Baroque expansion and conversion began in 1692 but was only completed in 1766. The site was never actually used for the Melk Benedictines’ recreation as had been planned. Its economic function deriving from the adjacent farm and fish pond always remained more important. As a result, the castle was increasingly used as living quarters from the 19th century. Naturally, the castle’s existing furnishings, some of which were very ornate, suffered as a consequence. In the 1970s, chandelier manufacturer Alfons Maderna bought the castle and had the remaining contents immaculately restored.

The entrance to the castle is through the old gatehouse. The first floor of this building contains a chapel, which the massive octagonal tower with its prominently curved roof hints at. The two wings lead off from this entrance at an obtuse angle. The simple exterior of the building contrasts strikingly with the sumptuously decorated great hall. Here, the painter Johann Bergl created a fanciful indoor garden, imitating the frescoes in the Pavilion at Melk Abbey by introducing biblical motifs into exotic landscapes.

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Schloss Pielach

Marmorsaal

The Marble Hall lies at the end of the “Imperial Passage” – the area originally intended for the accommodation of the imperial court and the many other guests who visited the Abbey. It served as a reception and dining hall for festivals, above all during visits by the imperial court. The inscription above the door indicates this function: “Hospites tamquam Christus suscipiantur” (“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ”) and “Et omnibus congruus honor exhibeatur” (“And to all let due honour be shown”) from Chapter 53 of the Rule of St Benedict. The door frames are of real marble from the famous Salzburg quarries of Adnet and Untersberg, while the walls are of stucco marble. The ceiling frescoes are by Paul Troger (1731) and the architectural painting, which gloriously frames the frescoes, by Gaetano Fanti. There have been various attempts to interpret the allegories in the ceiling frescoes. The viewer can see, for example, the central figure of Pallas Athene on a chariot pulled by lions with Hercules who is striking Cerberus with his club. The Habsburgs liked to employ the myth of Hercules for themselves; this was particularly true of Charles VI, from whose reign this painting comes. The two figures could therefore be seen as an embodiment of state power, and thus the painting as an expression of deference to the ruling dynasty, which knows how to govern with wise moderation (Pallas Athene) and necessary force (Hercules). The ruler leads his people, with all their sinful ways, from the dark (Cerberus, demons of the night, allegories of sin: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) into the light that grants science and the arts to the seeker: above Pallas Athene a radiant angel brings light and scatters flowers. Next to it, the spring-like Zephyr brings warmth and growth. Underneath there are allegorical depictions of various virtues, sciences and arts. At the end of the group, the winged horse Pegasus, symbol of poetry, leaps from the temple to the muses. An angel hovers above, pouring from its cornucopia rewards for good, spiritual and moral acts. Here one can clearly see the Enlightenment ideal of the ruler.

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Marmorsaal

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Abbey Church

The centrepiece of the Baroque Melk Abbey complex is its Abbey Church, or Stiftskirche. In keeping with the wishes of the abbot and the monastic community, the church makes tangible the complex’s religious purpose and orientation towards God. Initial plans only envisaged a “Baroquisation” of the original church. However, in 1701 Abbot Berthold Dietmayr initiated a complete reconstruction of the building based on plans by Jakob Prandtauer. Abbot Dietmayr managed to recruit the most prominent masters of their disciplines to decorate the church: Antonio Beduzzi (interior architecture, sketches for the frescoes), Johann Michael Rottmayr (frescoes, altar paintings), Paul Troger (altar paintings), Giuseppe Galli-Bibiena (designs for the pulpit and high altar), Lorenzo Mattielli (designs for the sculptures), and Peter Widerin (sculptures).

The church is a barrel-vaulted hall with side chapels and galleries topped by an imposing 64-metre-high dome and cupola. In the ostentatious interior, lavishly adorned with gold leaf, stucco and marble, the colours gold, ochre, orange, green and grey predominate. The theatre architect Antonio Beduzzi provided the main ideas and designs for the construction. More down-to-earth artists realised his plans. The inscription on the high altar sums up the Melk Abbey Church: “NON CORONABITUR NISI LEGATINE CERTAVERIT” (“No-one shall be crowned unless he has striven lawfully”).

A symbol of this victorious struggle is visible in the enormous golden crown hovering above the apostolic princes, Peter and Paul. This signifies the martyrdom of the two church patrons as a victory for the Christian cause. The two apostles are surrounded by sculptures of prophets from the Old Testament. God the Father sits enthroned above them, beneath another symbol of victory – the cross. This motif of the church victorious is continued in the grand frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr on the ceiling of the Presbytery depicting various allegorical scenes. The ceiling frescoes in the nave from 1722 are also by Rotmayr, based on designs by Beduzzi: the “Via Triumphalis” of St. Benedict into heaven. Rottmayr’s paintings on the dome (1716–1717) depict the “Heavenly Jerusalem” with God the Father, Christ and the Holy Ghost high up in the cupola. They are surrounded by apostles, Mary and a host of saints who have particular importance for Melk.

The two altars in the transepts are arranged symmetrically in relation to one another. They are based on designs by Beduzzi and are dedicated to the two main saints of the Abbey, Coloman and Benedict. The left side-altar houses a sarcophagus containing the remains of St Coloman. In order to maintain the symmetry, the right side-altar, dedicated to Benedict, has a cenotaph. The arrangement of figures on this altar depicts the death of St Benedict amid his brother monks. On the opposite side, there is a sculpture on the Coloman altar showing Benedict in prayer. Beduzzi was also responsible for designing the side-altars in the nave. These are dedicated to the saints Sebastian, Nicholas, John the Baptist, Michael, the Magi and Leopold. Rottmayr painted the altarpieces for Michael and the Magi in 1723, and that for the John the Baptist altar in 1727. Paul Troger painted the images for the Sebastian and Nicolas altars in 1746. The oldest altarpiece, that on the Leopold altar, is from 1650. Georg Bachmann painted it on a tin plate.

In 1976, the installation of a “People’s Altar”, arranged so the priest now faced the congregation, paid tribute to both the modernising impulses of the Second Vatican Council and the Baroque ideal of creating something new. The Viennese architect Helmut Hütter constructed an altar podium in the crossing using geometric figures, a common device in church interiors, especially on the floor. By choosing a form that blends in with the stalls and the floor tiles, he harmonically incorporates this unique object into the Baroque whole.

Kolomanisaal

The large, former Abbey hall extends over two floors. It has also served as a theatre and student chapel. Sheaves of pilasters and painted fluting divide the space; the wall sections, overdoors and alcoves are painted with stone-coloured and bronze ornaments. Some of the window reveals on the north side contain busts of busts of Austrian rulers.

Hippolytoi Sconzani first painted the hall’s vaulted ceiling in 1719, but the fresco was destroyed in a fire in 1738. In 1744 Gaetano Fanti, with his son’s assistance, began painting the oval, monochrome legend scenes, architecturally framed in cartouches, for which Paul Troger created his last ceiling image at Melk in 1745. The thematic model for this was the altarpiece from the Leopold altar in the old Abbey Church. The Abbey’s saints – Leopold, Coloman, Benedict and the apostolic princes Peter and Paul – float on clouds above a depiction of the Abbey before the Baroque renovation. They offer up the Abbey to God the Father for his blessing. On the terrestrial plane, Margrave Leopold I, carrying a banner-bearing spear on his shoulder, looks up from the left edge to St Leopold.

The first member of the House of Babenberg is accompanied by a canon, a reference to the Abbey tradition, since Leopold I’s time, of housing a collegiate church in the Melk castle. Chronos, with the symbols of the scythe and the hourglass, floats above the group. Opposite, Margrave Leopold II points to the Abbey, granting it to Abbot Sigibold and his Benedictines (in 1089). Along the lower edge, the allegorical figures of Architecture and Fama, announcing the fame of the building’s patron, present the plan of the new Abbey complex. Right at the bottom, angels carry a cartouche with the coats of arms of the Abbey, of Abbot Berthold Dietmayr and Abbot Adrian Pliemel, who commissioned the fresco. 

Gartenpavillion

In 1747–1748, Franz Munggenast built the Garden Pavilion as a space for the fathers to relax and recuperate. The Abbey observed strict fasting periods, and this facility was intended to promote both the psychological and physical health of its inhabitants. Medical procedures of the time involved bleeding and various purging treatments. After these cures, the monks needed fortification. Of the Abbey’s contingent of monks, one group was always continuing with normal Abbey life and singing the choral prayers while another was recuperating. The Garden Pavilion was built for this purpose, entirely in keeping with the intellectual world of the Baroque period.

The ceiling fresco in the Garden Pavilion is by Johann Wenzel Bergl (1718– 1789), a pupil of Paul Troger and Franz Anton Maulbertsch; it depicts the triumph of the light. At the centre of the heavenly vault, the sun shines; above it, we see a zodiacal arch with the signs of the months for the three joyous seasons, spring, summer and autumn. The youthful form of spring, crowned with flowers, rides in, bathed in sunlight, in a triumphal carriage. Underneath are summer, crowned in ears of wheat, and autumn with a cornucopia, from which a rich harvest flows. Winter follows them carrying a lowered torch, which, symbolising the north wind, blows out rain and snow before it. The seasons echo through four medallions within the architectural paintings: on the north side, to the right, putti dig up the earth (spring); on the south side, to the left, they cut up the harvest (summer); on the south side, to the right, they press wine (autumn), and on the north side, to the left, they ride in sledges (winter).

On the edges of the frescoes one sees the four continents then known in Europe. On the north side, opposite the main entrance, is the Tyrian princess Europa, whom Zeus, taking the form of a bull, abducted to Crete. She is easily recognisable as Empress Maria Theresa; the imperial insignia and eagle also recall the Holy Roman Empire. The numerous arts and sciences (not only music, sculpture, astronomy and painting but also the art of war) illustrate this continent’s primacy.

In the east, the figure of Asia is represented by an oriental prince, whose sceptre and turban recall the Turkish Empire; he is surrounded by courtiers, scribes and bound slaves. A Chinese emissary offers up gifts. In the south, Africa is symbolised by a Moorish prince holding a beautiful horse by the reins; exotic animals and plants surround him alongside figures with jewels and pearls; in the background is a pyramid with the symbols of Islam and heathen religions. To the west, America is represented with undifferentiated depictions Indians and black people; an elephant (!) symbolises the continent’s fauna. A Spanish explorer exchanges goods with the locals.

The putti in the frescoes above the door represent the five senses. Taste, the most important of them in this place of feasts and revelry, appears twice: as drinking (in the south) and eating (in the north). Alongside the latter in the north is touch on the left and smell on the right; in the south, sight on the right and hearing on the left. The frescoes over the two niches show, on the left, Abbot Thomas Pauer in a medallion; his time in office saw the start of the Pavilion’s construction in 1747. He died, however, before its completion. This is the reason for the presence of Chronos with the hourglass. The medallion on the right contains Abbot Urban Hauer, who oversaw the completion of the construction. Consequently, there is an angel proclaiming his fame on a horn. Below is the architect of the Pavilion, Franz Munggenast, and left the artist Johann Wenzel Bergl, who painted the frescoes in 1764. The frescoes in the other rooms depict exotic scenes (for example, in the eastern room, the discovery of America, exotic animals and fruits).

The Bergl frescoes confront us with the joy of life, with voluptuous painting of exotic plants and animals, paradisiacal surroundings and loving harmonies. It is unimportant whether Bergl’s fantasies depict grand iconographic ideas that act as an earthly counterpart to the spiritual realm of the Abbey and the church. The paintings simply express a Baroque mentality that expressed itself even in a place of asceticism. The piety of this period had a very earthly accent, as did these people’s attitude toward life. 

Stiftspark

The Baroque Abbey Park with the Garden Pavilion was laid out in 1743 and was probably originally decorated with Baroque ornamental arrangements of flowers, plants and gravel. Its design is not only a product of the physical landscape but also the period’s idea of a “paradisiacal” garden.

Before it was created, the area was relatively impassable, covered with vines and fruit trees. The original level was lower, about that of the current entrance. The area of today’s Garden Pavilion was raised in order to create a higher viewpoint over the Danube. Symmetry was very important in the Baroque period. This is evident in the comparison between the building and the garden: the area covered by the building correspondents more or less to the cultivated garden space. However, the garden is also based on a philosophical-theological concept.

The number three, a holy number, crops up repeatedly in the building and the park. For example, the church has three levels: the nave, the dome and the cupola. In the cupola, above the dome, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, is depicted in the form of a dove. The Abbey Park is also divided into three levels. The upper level contains a pool. Water reservoirs are generally placed on the highest level, partly for practical reasons. However, this open-air pool is also a symbol of life, which corresponds to the cupola on the dome with its depiction of the Holy Ghost, who is a symbol of life that ensures its continuation. The dome and the pool are exactly equidistant from an axis between the two “Babenberg” towers!

Shortly after 1800, the thematic precision of the Baroque complex was done away with and it was transformed into an English garden in accordance with the fashion of the time. Thereafter, the park became increasingly overgrown, with only the most basic upkeep being undertaken. In 1995, the renovation of the Abbey Park began with the aim of preserving and, where necessary, completing all the overgrown, hidden or damaged elements of both the original Baroque and the later English garden. Today, next to the Garden Pavilion, one can once again see the Honorattempel, a round neo-Baroque Pavilion, on the upper level of the Abbey Park and the fountain. The Baroque tiled platform was made visible again, and the old system of paths recreated in order to revive the original philosophical and metaphysical concept of the park complex.

Next to the large pool, the highest part of the Abbey Park on the third level, there is an avenue of linden trees, some of which date from the Baroque period, planted around 250 years ago. However, contemporary touches have also been added to the park since then: in the pool, for example, there is an installation by the artist Christian Philipp Müller with the title “The New World, a Type of locus amoenus”. It is an island with plants from the New World growing on it. In 2009, a “Cabinet Clairvoyée” was set up behind the Garden Pavilion as a viewing point looking out over the Danube to the west. In the northern part of the park, there is the “Benedict Way”, whose theme is “Benedict – the Blessed”. The “Garden of Paradise” was rebuilt according to the old models of the Abbey garden that contained medicinal herbs, spices and strong smelling or vibrantly coloured plants.

One part is a “Jardin méditerranéen”. This exotic Mediterranean garden is intended to recall the past use of the area of today’s Abbey restaurant: an orangery. Biblical plants were planted on the slope: fig trees and vines as well as an apple and a palm tree. 

Barockkeller

From 1650 to 1652, Abbot Valentin Embalner had a wine cellar carved out from the solid rock face beneath the current priory and the Abbey Park kitchen. The two enormous barrel vaults of the cellar remain preserved today as the “Large Baroque Cellar”. Between 1713 and 1714, Jakob Prandtauer added further cellar space to the west, underneath the priory and the prelature – the “Small Baroque Cellar”. In 1718–1720, the building above the cellars created by Abbot Embalner was torn down and replaced. In order to ensure the new building’s stability, Jakob Prandtauer reinforced the vaulting between the two cellars. Some original, unreinforced arches still remain. Later, in 1868–1869, Abbot Clemens Moser remodelled the wing above the Abbey kitchens, that is, the current joiner’s workshop, incorporating new classrooms into the Abbey’s school. Further (rectangular) columns had to be set up in the cellar to support the arch. These cellar rooms had various purposes over time. During the Turkish siege in 1683, for example, the citizens of Melk took refuge here from the invading troops. Melk Abbey was besieged by around 1,000 French soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars. They forced their way into the cellar and supposedly drank the Abbey’s wine stores dry. According to an entry into the Abbey chronicle from this time, Napoleon said that in Melk the wine cellar was so large that one could travel through it four-abreast. In the Second World War, the cellar was an air-raid bunker for the population of Melk. The Large Baroque Cellar was a wine cellar up until the 1970s. After the vineyards were leased out, it was used as a store room for all kinds of items, especially materials for the great restoration of the Abbey; sometimes they were piled ceiling-high. Finally the space was repurposed to hold functions. The smaller cellar built under Jakob Prandtauer remained a wine cellar until the renovation in 1998, and a small part was used as a tasting room until 1965.

Between 1998 and 2000, in preparation for the Lower Austrian state expo in 2000, both cellar areas were renovated (under the supervision of Johann Kräftner). A steep staircase was supplemented with a lift with exits at the level of the Prandtau cellar and at the lowest level. In addition to the existing staircase, a second was built on the other side of the cellar. During the construction work, the old exit into the prelate’s court was found; the new staircase was partially incorporated into this. During the works in 1998-2000, a corridor was excavated above the ice house and through the rock. This leads to a lift in the south wing of the Abbey. The project included a restoration and revitalisation of the cellar space. This meant it could be used to house part of the Lower Austrian expo “The Search for Lost Paradise: European Culture as Reflected in the Monasteries” in 2000; since 2001, it has been used for various cultural events organised by the Abbey and its school.

Dietmayrsaal

During the renovation of the south wing (1726), a small banqueting hall was built in the south-east corner of the imperial passage to accommodate imperial visits. It features heavy, probably early Baroque ceiling decorations (festoons, rocaille, rosettes and lattice patterns). The frescoes set into the ceiling were painted by the Abbey’s own painter, Johann Georg Waibl; they depict monochrome allegories of Emperor Charles VI’s idealistic claim to global rulership: in the centre of the ceiling, genii flank a globe under the eyes of God. A sceptre symbolises Austria, genii carry insignia of power, including the crowns of the various provinces.

The corner medallions are decorated with personifications of the four continents then known. Under the cornice are the stars from the coat of arms of Abbot Berthold Dietmayr, who commissioned the building. On the south wall (with the windows), the political programme is augmented by the fresco decorations under the window embrasures: above the four cardinal virtues, a medallion of Charles VI, King Solomon before the Queen of Sheba and female figures symbolising prosperity (with caduceus and cornucopia) and fame (with laurel wreath and palm leaves).

These decorations were later painted over and were only discovered to great surprise during the restorations of 1979–1980. This grand room was transformed into a theatre in 1764; there had been an older theatre in the Coloman Hall. Ornamental pilaster strips and capitals on the walls are probably by Johann Bergl, who in 1768 was working on the design of the theatre hall. His decorations were later removed, and only a few remnants of further decorative painting by Bergl were found during the restoration.

The small room to the east is separated from the theatre hall by a column; it has decorated window reveals (morning, midday, evening and night). Originally, the upper floor probably opened into the hall, as a theatre box or a space for the orchestra. 

Pfarrhof Melk

LOCATION

Melk Presbytery is on a prominent site in the town centre. To the north, its imposing, late Baroque facade looks out onto the main square; the church square and the towers of the parish church are to the east, and to the south lie the rectory garden, nestled against the south wall of the carriage house and east wing, and other parts of the former town wall (in this section, only a turret, known as the “Post Tower”, remains.) To the west, neighbouring buildings cluster around the Presbytery.

HISTORY

Melk Presbytery was founded by the diocese of Passau. It was probably established in the 11th century: a priest was first appointed in 1165. The diocese transferred it to the Benedictine monastery in 1693 as part of an exchange. The first verifiable church with parish rights (St. Stephen's) was located on the ridge east of the castle and the monastery (from 1089). The arduous walk to St. Stephen's Church prompted the citizens to build a chapel in the market town itself in the late 13th century; in around 1400, it was consecrated “to the honour of Our Lady”. In 1450, construction began on the Church of the Assumption of Mary. It was completed with the installation of the altars in 1481. In 1508, it became the parish church. Its predecessor, St. Stephen's, presumably as a result of this, gradually decayed and was abandoned; its exact location is no longer known today. Few accounts of the Presbytery survive. In 1313, Father Albrecht stipulated that the “house on the hill” (now incorporated into the property at Sterngasse 19) would be used as a presbytery. In around 1575, this building came into the possession of the Springer family, leading to plans to build the Presbytery in its current location, near the parish church. The entire Presbytery was destroyed in a huge fire on 15 February 1548. This event must also have affected the old Presbytery at Sterngasse 19. With the incorporation of the parish of Melk, the Abbey also purchased the Presbytery in 1694 from the diocese of Passau. The parish records describe it as being in danger of collapsing in 1752. The Viennese architect Matthias Gerl was commissioned to design a new building. On 3 June 1752, Abbot Thomas Pauer laid the foundation stone, and the basic structure was completed by autumn that year. Another major fire in 1847 damaged the Presbytery, but catastrophe was averted: the caretaker from Luberegg and the fire hose from Leiben Manor saved the building. However, the fire destroyed the tower of the parish church including the belfry.

Schloss Pielach

Pielach was situated on the military road linking the Roman frontier (or Limes) road, later an imperial road, with Favianis (Mautern) via Melk, Lanzing and the Dunkelstein Forest.

The castle that was once the centre of a small manorial estate still stands in Pielach. The visitor enters it through an old octagonal tower. From the courtyard, it is possible to see the former park containing an island, upon which there was once another castle accessible via a bridge. However, nothing remains now of this island castle or the water. Only dry trenches betray the existence of these old defensive features. This island castle’s history goes back to the first half of the 12th century, when Reinmar, a noble official of Count von Schalla, had the Bishop of Troyes dedicate a church to St. Aegidius in 1147. At the time, the bishop was on his way to the Holy Land as a crusader. Previously, a small fortification near Schollach was misidentified as this church; its location on this island was only later definitively determined.

Ownership of Pielach Castle passed from the Pielach family to various families of knights belonging to the retinues of the Peilsteiners and the Burghausen-Schalas: the Häuslers, Plankensteiners, Topels, Zinzendorfs, Greiseneggers, Geyers and Enenkels, before, in around 1600, Ludwig von Starhemberg acquired it. A zealous Protestant, he had a “Lutheran temple” built opposite the castle, the ruins of which only disappeared in the last century. After the Protestant insurgency was crushed, Ludwig’s goods were confiscated and sold to the highest bidder. Thus Melk Abbey came into possession of the building in 1622, but by that stage it was in a parlous state.

In the Baroque era, the dilapidated building was rebuilt as a recreational and summer residence for the abbot and monks. The island castle was abandoned and the island incorporated into the park. The millstream that had fed the moat was filled in during the 1980s, so that the bridge to the tree-lined site of the island castle now merely crosses a dry ditch.

The Baroque expansion and conversion began in 1692 but was only completed in 1766. The site was never actually used for the Melk Benedictines’ recreation as had been planned. Its economic function deriving from the adjacent farm and fish pond always remained more important. As a result, the castle was increasingly used as living quarters from the 19th century. Naturally, the castle’s existing furnishings, some of which were very ornate, suffered as a consequence. In the 1970s, chandelier manufacturer Alfons Maderna bought the castle and had the remaining contents immaculately restored.

The entrance to the castle is through the old gatehouse. The first floor of this building contains a chapel, which the massive octagonal tower with its prominently curved roof hints at. The two wings lead off from this entrance at an obtuse angle. The simple exterior of the building contrasts strikingly with the sumptuously decorated great hall. Here, the painter Johann Bergl created a fanciful indoor garden, imitating the frescoes in the Pavilion at Melk Abbey by introducing biblical motifs into exotic landscapes.

Marmorsaal

The Marble Hall lies at the end of the “Imperial Passage” – the area originally intended for the accommodation of the imperial court and the many other guests who visited the Abbey. It served as a reception and dining hall for festivals, above all during visits by the imperial court. The inscription above the door indicates this function: “Hospites tamquam Christus suscipiantur” (“Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ”) and “Et omnibus congruus honor exhibeatur” (“And to all let due honour be shown”) from Chapter 53 of the Rule of St Benedict. The door frames are of real marble from the famous Salzburg quarries of Adnet and Untersberg, while the walls are of stucco marble. The ceiling frescoes are by Paul Troger (1731) and the architectural painting, which gloriously frames the frescoes, by Gaetano Fanti. There have been various attempts to interpret the allegories in the ceiling frescoes. The viewer can see, for example, the central figure of Pallas Athene on a chariot pulled by lions with Hercules who is striking Cerberus with his club. The Habsburgs liked to employ the myth of Hercules for themselves; this was particularly true of Charles VI, from whose reign this painting comes. The two figures could therefore be seen as an embodiment of state power, and thus the painting as an expression of deference to the ruling dynasty, which knows how to govern with wise moderation (Pallas Athene) and necessary force (Hercules). The ruler leads his people, with all their sinful ways, from the dark (Cerberus, demons of the night, allegories of sin: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth) into the light that grants science and the arts to the seeker: above Pallas Athene a radiant angel brings light and scatters flowers. Next to it, the spring-like Zephyr brings warmth and growth. Underneath there are allegorical depictions of various virtues, sciences and arts. At the end of the group, the winged horse Pegasus, symbol of poetry, leaps from the temple to the muses. An angel hovers above, pouring from its cornucopia rewards for good, spiritual and moral acts. Here one can clearly see the Enlightenment ideal of the ruler.