Wednesday, July 25, 2012

MELK, AUSTRIA

When we were driving out to Mauthausen, we checked our Rick Steves Guidebook for other places we might visit on the way back.  We saw that Melk had a "must see" monastery, and since the Autobahn we were on went right through Melk, we decided to stop there on the way back.

It turns out that Melk's Benedictine Abbey is one of the most famous monasteries in the world.  It was founded in 1089, and a school with a library was started in the 12th century.  The fame and quality of the school and particularly of the famous library, which has 100,000 volumes (of which 1,888 are medieval manuscripts), saved the monastery from dissolution and ruin many times.  Even when the Nazis seized the school and part of the abbey in 1938, it survived and was returned to the Benedictines after the war.

Our Rick Steves guidebook said the the monastery sold their copy of the Gutenberg Bible to finance recent renovations, but actually they sold their Gutenberg Bible to Yale in 1929 for $106,000.  The money must have been used for prior renovations. That much money wouldn't go very far these days.

The nice thing about the Benedictines is that while celibacy and poverty are part of their lifestyle, they don't take a vow of poverty like the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Dominicans.  They've been very successful in a wine-making business, and their monastery here is definitely opulent.

There have been several constructions and reconstructions, and most of the buildings on the site now were constructed in the 18h century at the height of the Baroque period.
The monastery sits on a hill, which affords beautiful views of the city. Melk has a population of just over 5,000, about the size of my hometown while I was growing up.  This does not look much like Payson:

The approach to the Abbey from the parking lot winds through the beautiful monastery gardens:

This painting of the Abbey shows how extensive the buildings are:

A 1:100 scale model inside the monastery also gave some interesting perspective:

Stan and Chris are about to enter the Abbey gate.  Yes, that is a gelato in Chris's hand. The Benedictines thoughtfully placed a restaurant and gelato stop just outside the gate here.

The first inner courtyard is an very interesting blend of Baroque:
. . . and modern:
It was a bizarre contrast.  I wish I knew if these were post-War paintings. Mauthausen Concentration Camp is only 50 miles away, and a sub-camp was located in Melk.

There were also plenty of fine gentlemen on display:

We started our tour of the Abbey with an art exhibit that had us scratching our heads.  What is with the Austrians and mood lighting?  How does this enhance the viewing experience of the Abbey's art collection that goes back 900 years?

The first word of the rule of St. Benedict: Listen!

One of the most ancient pieces on display is this crucifix, carved from linden wood around 1200 and one of the oldest wooden crosses in Austria:

The atmosphere was just a little too bizarre:
At least this beautiful altarpiece was tastefully lit:
We went on to other rooms in the monastery and had a bit more traditional experience.  The frescoes on the ceilings were painted in 1731:
We loved the trompe l'oeil effects that made the ceiling look even taller than it was:

I wonder if these spinning round windows are available at our Home Depot?

We weren't allowed to take photos in the actual library, but here is a great shot from a website about the top ten libraries in the world:


Our next stop was the monastery church, called "The Church of Saints Peter and Paul."  There was a balcony in front of the church that looked out over the Rhine River:

A cute tourist taking in the view:

The front of the church:

Close up of statues around the door:


The inside of the monastery church is Baroque at its finest, the pink marble and gold filigree kind that Bob and I love. Pictures just don't do it justice.



The pulpit and the cupola:



I liked this altar painting of St. Michael pushing the "fallen angel" (Satan) into the abyss:
This altar has the body of an unknown saint behind glass. It was given to the monastery by a Viennese cardinal in 1722.  CREEPY.
This is St. Coloman, an Irish prince, whose remains were brought to Melk in 1014 and are in a sarcophagus next to this statue

The grand altar with a huge crown over the main figures:


Here are Peter and Paul, the church's namesakes, in their golden splendor:

St. Benedict's altar--not a very good picture, but since he is the patron saint of this monastery, I thought I had better include it. St. Benedict is surrounded by his friends, about to ascend to God. Those gold blobs on the obelisk are supposed to be clouds. The sarcophagus is empty. Benedict's body is in a crypt in Italy.

This chapel was extensively  renovated from 1977-1987.  It was gorgeous, but then, so was the entire monastery complex.  We took a walk around the vast grounds before we left. These crows on posts were interesting.

There were acres of well-manicured gardens as well as natural forests:

Don't forget to stop and smell the roses:


There was, however, a serpent in the garden:
The walkway railing

I loved this little garden pavilion that doubles as a lunch place.  We didn't know it when we were there, but these murals painted by Johann Wenzel Bergl , who also painted some of the murals in the Schonbrunn Palace, are famous.


After we were done at the monastery, we headed into town in search of dinner.  It was Stan's birthday, and we wanted something nice.

We ended up with what was probably one of our best meals of the whole trip.  Again, we have Rick Steves and his great guidebook to thank for his recommendation of the restaurant in this hotel, which was located in the heart of the town and just below the Melk Monastery. Note the "Cafe-Eis" on the left--yet another gelato stop.
 We were seated outside on the beautiful patio, shaded by enormous umbrellas.  During our meal, a thunderstorm hit, and it only added to the exotic ambiance of the place.
Stan took the first step down his road of wiener schnitzel obsession here.  He had this dish several more times, but I don't think it was ever as good as it was at the Hotel zur Post Restaurant in Melk:
By the way, did you know that Wien is the German word for Vienna?  If a city can have a signature dish, this is it.
Chris had a delicious veal cutlet:

  I had the Best Venison I Have Ever Had.  EVER.

Even Vegan Bob scored at this restaurant:


As we left Melk, we had one final look at that gorgeous church.  The post-storm lighting made it look like a movie set.  Is it possible that this radiant structure was just fifty miles from the horrors of Mauthausen?  It seemed like two alternate universes.


5 comments:

  1. You know, I suspected that Gutenberg sale to Harvard was problematic. I couldn't find a source that knew how much it was supposedly sold for, nor could I find it on a list of "where are the Gutenberg Bibles Today". On the other hand,the abbey itself stated the bible was sold for the 1996 renovations, and monks wouldn't lie, right?

    I love the picture you found of the library. It was really an amazing spot in the abbey. Not so fond of all of those gelato pictures--I fear you're leaving others with the impression I'm an addict.

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    1. Our Rick Steves book that said Melk had sold their Gutenberg Bible for renovations. Did it say that somewhere at the Abbey? Either way, the implication was that the latest renovations were funded by the sale. I doubt it.
      As far as gelato goes, since I took the pictures, I and MY gelato are rarely in them, but I was with you all the way on the addiction, and I have the extra padding to prove it.

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    2. I asked a worker in the library area if he knew how much the Bible sold for. He said it was enough to do the renovations, but he didn't know what HARVARD payed for it. After re-reading my information, I agree with you-the Bible was sold to Yale, not Harvard, and in the 1920's, not 1990's. However,the information is confusing about how the latest renovations were carried out. Maybe the Austrian-English translation was a little rough?

      Note to self: Take more pictures of Judy behaving like "the evil one" when we travel together. My kids are starting to doubt my story that "Judy made me eat gelato".

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  2. As usual ~ love reading about your travels and the pictures you post but . . . that last picture is absolutely amazing. Really beautiful - can't imagine seeing it in "real life".

    Eileen

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  3. Near the site of our first hotel outside of Vienna on our honeymoon. Seeing these pictures brings back memories of our idyllic time there. This is the side of Austria I remember.

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