1902 Encyclopedia > Abbey > Benedictine Abbeys: Monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland

Abbey
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(B) Benedictine Abbeys

Monastery of St. Gall, Switzerland

We have no existing examples of the earlier monasteries of the Benedictine order. They have all yielded to the ravages of time and the violence of man. But we have fortunately preserved to us an elaborate plan of the great Swiss monastery of St Gall, erected about A.D. 820, which puts us in possession of the whole arrangements of a monastery of the first class towards the early part of the 9th century. Thus curious and interesting plan has been made the subject of a memoir both by Keller (Zurich, 1844) and by Professor Willis (Arch. Journal, 1848, vol. v. pp. 86-117). To the latter we are indebted for the substance of the following description, as well as for the above woodcut, reduced from his elucidated transcript of the original preserved in the archives of the convent. The general appearance of the convent is that of a town of isolated houses with streets running between them. It is evidently planned in compliance with the Benedictine, rule which enjoined that, if possible, the monastery should contain within itself every necessary of life, as well as the buildings more intimately connected with the religious and social life of its inmates. It should comprise a mill, a bakehouse, stables and cow-houses, together with accommodation for carrying on all necessary mechanical arts within the walls, so as to obviate the necessity of the monks going outside its limits. The general distribution of the buildings may be thus described; - The church, with its cloister to the south, occupies the center of a quadrangular area, about 430 feet square. The buildings, as in all great monasteries, are distributed into groups. The church forms the nucleus, as the centre of the religious life of the community. In closest connection with the church is the group of building appropriated to the monastic life and its daily requirements-the refectory for eating, the dormitory for sleeping, the common room for social intercourse, the chapter-house for religious and disciplinary conference. These essential elements of monastic life are ranged about a cloister court, surrounded by a covered arcade, affording communication sheltered from the elements, between the various buildings. The infirmary for sick monks, with the physician's house and physic garden, lies to the east. In the same group with the infirmary is the school for the novices. The outer school, with its head-master's house against the opposite wall of the church, stands outside the convent enclosure, in close proximity to the abbot's house, that he might have a constant eye over them. The buildings devoted to hospitality are divided into three groups,-one for the reception of distinguished guests, another for monks visiting the monastery, third for poor travelers and pilgrims. The first third are placed to the right and left of the common entrance of the monastery, - the hospitium for distinguished guests being placed on the north side of the church, not far from the abbot's house; that for the poor on the south side next to the farm buildings. The monks are lodged in a guest-house built against the north wall of the church. The group of buildings connected with the material wants of the establishment is placed to the south and west of the church, and is distinctly separated from the monastic buildings. The kitchen, buttery, and offices, are reached by a passage from the west end of the refectory, and are connected with the bakehouse and brewhouse, which are placed still further away. The whole of the southern and western sides is devoted to workshop, stables, and farm-buildings. The buildings, with some exceptions, seem to have been of one story only, and all but the church were probably erected of wood. The whole includes thirty-three separate blocks. The church (D) is cruciform, with a nave of nine bays, and a semicircular apse at either extremity. That to the west is surrounded by a semicircular colonnade, leaving an open "Paradise" (E) between it and the wall of the church. The whole area is divided by screens into various chapels. The high altar (A) stands immediately to the east of the transept, or ritual choir; the altar of St Paul (B) in the eastern, and that of St Peter (C) in the western apse. A cylindrical campanile stands detached from the church on either side of the western apse (FF).

St Gall image

Ground Plan of St Gall Monastery


The "cloister court" (G) on the south side of the nave of the church has on its east side the "pisalis" or "calefactory" (H), the common sitting-room of the brethren, warmed by flues beneath the floor. On this side in later monasteries we invariably find the chapter-house, the absence of which in this plan is somewhat surprising. It appears, however, from the inscriptions on the plan itself, that the north walk of the cloister served for the purposes of a chapter-house, and was fitted up with benches on the long sides. Above the calefactory is the "dormitory" opening into the south transept of the church, to enable the monks to attend the nocturnal services with readiness. A passage at the other end leads to the "necessarium" (I), a portion of the monastic buildings always planned with extreme care. The southern side is occupied by the "refectory" (K), from the west end of which by a vestibule the kitchen (L) is reached. This is separated from the main buildings of the monastery, and is connected by a long passage with a building containing the bakehouse and brewhouse (M), and the sleeping-rooms of the servants. The upper story of the refectory is the "vestiarun," where the ordinary clothes of the brethren were kept. On the western side of the cloister is another two story building (N). The cellar is below, and the larder and store-room above. Between this building and the church, opening by one door into cloisters, and by another to the outer part of the monastery area, is the "parlour" for interviews with visitors from the external world (O). On the eastern side of the north transept is the "scriptorium" or writing-room (P1), with the library above.





To the east of the church stands a group of buildings comprising two miniature conventual establishments, each complete in itself. Each has a covered cloister surrounded by the usual buildings, i.e., refectory, dormitory, &c., and a church or chapel on one side, placed back to back. A detached building belonging to each contain a bath and a kitchen. One of these diminutive convents is appropriate d to the "oblati" or novices (Q), the other to the sick monks as an "infirmary" (R).

The "residence of the physicians" (S) stands contiguous to the infirmary, and the physic garden (T) at the north-east corner of the monastery. Besides other rooms, it contains a drug store, and a chamber for those who are dangerously ill. The "house for blood-letting and purging" adjoins it on the west (U).

The "outer school," to the north of the convent area, contains a large school-room divided across the middle by a screen or partition, and surrounded by fourteen little rooms, termed the dwellings of the scholars. The head-master's house (W) is opposite, built against the side wall of the church. The two "hospitia" or "guest-houses" for the entertainment of strangers of different degrees (X1 X2) comprise a large common chamber or refectory in the centre, surrounded by sleeping apartments. Each is provided with its own brewhouse and bakehouse, and that for travelers of a superior order has a kitchen and store-room, with bed-rooms for their servants, and stables for their horses. There is also an "hospitium" for strange monks, abutting on the north wall of the church (Y).

Beyond the cloister, at the extreme verge of the convent area to the south, stands the "factory" (Z), containing workshops for shoemakers, saddlers (or shoemakers, sellarii), cutlers and grinders, trencher-makers, tanners, curriers, fullers, smiths, and goldsmiths, with their dwellings in the rear. On this side we also find the farm-buildings, the large granary and threshing-floor (a), mills (c), malt-house (d). Facing the west are the stables (e), ox-sheds (f), goat-stables, (g), piggeries (h), sheep-folds (i), together with the servants' and labourers' quarters (k). At the south-east corner we find the hen and duck house, and poultry yard (m), and the dwelling of the keeper (n). Hard by is the kitchen garden (o), the beds bearing the names of the vegetables growing in them, onions, garlic, celery, lettuces, poppy, carrots, cabbages, &c., eighteen in all. In the same way the physic garden presents the names of the medicinal herbs, and the cemetery (p) those of the trees, apple, pear, plum, quince, &c., planted there.

It is evident, from this most curious and valuable document, that by the 9th century monastic establishments had become wealthy, and had acquired considerable importance, and were occupying a leading place in education, agriculture, and the industrial arts. The influence such an institution would diffuse through a wide district would be no less beneficial than powerful.





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