Melk Abbey was founded in 1089 when Leopold II, Margrave of Austria, donated one of his castles to the Benedictine monks of Lambach Abbey. In the 12th century, a school was founded here and the abbey library soon became famous for its extensive collection of manuscripts. In the 15th century, the monastery became the centre of the reform movement known as the "Melk Reform", which helped to invigorate monastic life in Austria and southern Germany. The present Baroque abbey was built between 1702 and 1736 by the architect Jakob Prandtauer. The abbey church with its frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr and the library with its innumerable medieval manuscripts are particularly impressive.
Before gradually spreading to all strata of society in the 19th and 20th centuries, literacy was the responsibility of the clergy, especially monks. So it is not surprising that monastic libraries are among the oldest, and most impressive, that have been passed down to us.
Admont Abbey is a Benedictine monastery that was founded in 1074. It houses the world's largest monastic library, which was started in the mid-18th century and completed in 1776. For centuries, the monastery was not only the religious centre of Upper Styria, but also a centre of art and science. After a decline caused by the Turkish wars and the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation under Abbot Johann Hoffmann gave the abbey a new impetus. A fire in 1865 had devastating consequences. Apart from the library, it destroyed almost the entire monastery, including the organ built by Franz Xaver Krisman in 1782. Reconstruction began a year later, but the corresponding building plan was only partially realised.
The Benedictine monastery in Rajhrad was founded according to tradition in 1045, making it the oldest monastic-type foundation in Moravia. The present monastic complex dates back to the 18th century, it was built between 1721 and 1746 according to the plans of the architect Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel; however, its project was not completed. After being dissolved in 1950, the largely devastated monastery was taken over by the Benedictine order in 1990. Its entire complex with the Church of St. Peter and Paul is protected as a cultural monument and in 2005 the library became the basis of the new Memorial of Literature in Moravia.
Salem Abbey, founded in 1136, was one of the most important Cistercian monasteries in Germany. The abbey soon became very prosperous, with large and magnificent structures erected in three different courtyards and a splendid church built between 1182 and 1311. Other foundations such as Raitenhauslach Abbey (1143), Wettingen Abbey or Stella Maris (1227) and Königsbronn Abbey (1303) were founded from this abbey. A fire in 1697 almost completely destroyed the abbey, which was immediately rebuilt in the baroque style. In 1803, the monastery was abolished and the buildings were used by the Grand Dukes of Baden, who united them in the Salem Castle complex.
Kremsmünster Abbey is a Benedictine monastery founded in 777 by the Bavarian Duke Tassilo III. From the middle of the 17th century, a large complex was built on top of the previous building. Together with Melk Abbey, it is one of the largest in Austria. Among the builders were Carlo Antonio Carlone and Jakob Prandtauer, who also designed the Melk Monastery Church. The monastery is known for its observatory (mathematical tower from 1750) and its school. The Kremsmünster Abbey Library is one of the largest and oldest in Austria. The magnificent 65-metre long room contains about 160,000 volumes, the most famous of which is the Codex Millenarius dating from around 800.
Waldsassen Abbey is a Cistercian abbey founded in 1133 by Margrave Diepold III von Vohburg. It was burnt down during the War of the Landshut Succession (1503-1505) and rebuilt in 1517. When the Reformation led to the conversion of the inhabitants of the region to Protestantism, the abbey was secularised. However, the Cistercian monks of Fürstenfeld Abbey returned to the country in 1661. The abbey and its abbey church were consecrated in 1704 after being rebuilt in the Baroque style from the 1680s onwards. The famous library was completed in 1727. The abbey was abolished in 1803 and now houses a large part of the girls' secondary school (Realschule) run by the Cistercian sisters.
Metten Abbey is one of the oldest in Bavaria, having been founded in 766. For centuries, under the protection of the Bavarian rulers, the abbey trained renowned philosophers and theologians. In 1803, the abbey was secularised and the monks were expelled. Bought by Johann von Pronath, Lord of Offenberg, he persuaded King Ludwig to open a school in the Benedictine tradition. After years of hardship, Metten was re-established as an abbey in 1840. The abbey library in the east wing is a jewel of Baroque architecture and contains more than 200,000 books and manuscripts. Built between 1720 and 1722, its stuccoes are the work of Franz Josef Holzinger and the murals of Innozenz Anton Warathy.
Strahov Monastery is an abbey of the Premonstratensian order founded in 1143. After a devastating fire in 1258, the entire complex was rebuilt within a few years. The Hussite wars of the 15th century, the Thirty Years' War and the War of Austrian Succession in 1741 caused further damage. The monastery is famous for its library dating from the 17th (theological room) and 18th century (philosophical room). It houses many unique specimens, prints, manuscripts, engravings and maps. One of the greatest treasures is the "Strahov Gospels", a manuscript from the 9th and 10th centuries.
Wiblingen Abbey was founded in 1093 by Counts Hartmann and Otto de Kirchberg. Throughout the Middle Ages, the abbey became famous for its school activities and its strict adherence to the rule of St. Benedict, which made it a stronghold of the Benedictines in Germany. From 1714 onwards, the abbey was modernised. Most of the monuments were transformed into Baroque style, except for the church, which was restored in neoclassical style. The famous library to the north of the abbey was also designed by Wiedemann and completed in 1744. The facade of this building was modelled on that of the Vienna Imperial Library.
The Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial is a complex that includes a royal palace and basilica, a pantheon, a library, a school and a monastery. The complex was designed between 1563 and 1584 by King Philip II and his architects. The austere 33,327 m2 Renaissance building has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. The library, with a collection of more than 45,000 volumes, is located in a large nave 54 metres long, 9 metres wide and 10 metres high. It was desired by Philip II, a literary prince trained by the greatest minds of Spain of his time, who read Latin perfectly, knew Italian and French.
St. Gallen Abbey, founded in 613, is the oldest monastery in Switzerland. Very little remains of the medieval abbey. Between 924 and 933, the invasion of the Magyars threatens the abbey, and books and parchments from the library are sent to Reichenau; most are returned to St. Gallen once the risk of looting has passed. During this looting, St. Wiborada is killed. She is the first woman to be canonised by Pope Clement II in 1047. Most of the buildings, including the abbey church, were built between 1755 and 1768 in the Baroque style. Its rococo library is one of the most important monastic libraries in the world, housing one of the most comprehensive collections of early medieval manuscripts in German-speaking Europe.