Kremsmünster Abbey was founded in 777 by Tassilo III, Duke of Bavaria. According to the foundation legend, Tassilo founded the monastery on the site where his son, Gunther, had been attacked and killed by a wild boar during a hunting trip. The first colony of monks came from Lower Bavaria, under Fateric, the first abbot. The new foundation received generous endowments from the founder and also from Charlemagne and his successors.
In the 10th century the abbey was destroyed in a raid by the Hungarians, and its possessions were divided among the Duke of Bavaria and other nobles and the bishops. It was restored, however, and recovered its property, under the emperor Henry II, when Saint Gotthard became abbot. Kremsmünster, in common with other religious houses, then fell into a decline, which was fortunately halted by the action of bishop Altmann of Passau, who brought a community from Gottesau, and introduced the reformed observance of Cluny into the abbey. After this it became known as one of the most flourishing houses in Germany.
The monastic library was famous, and drew eminent scholars to Kremsmünster, where several important historical works were written, including histories of the bishops of Passau and of the dukes of Bavaria, and the chronicles of the abbey itself.
From the Reformation period onwards a succession of able abbots kept the abbey on track. Among the abbots of the 18th century the most prominent and distinguished was Alexander Fixlmillner (1731-1759), who built the great observatory, constructed many roads on the monastic estate, and was a man of edifying life and great charity to the poor.
Towards the end of the 18th century the policy of Emperor Joseph II with regard to the religious houses of his empire threatened to close Kremsmünster, like many others, but it was fortunate enough to escape.
The abbey suffered a great deal during the Napoleonic wars, and was slow in recovering its position. It was not until the abbacy of Thomas Mitterndorfer (1840-1860) that, having recovered its material security, and re-established learning and discipline, it regained its former prestige. One of the most illustrious abbots in the 19th century was Dom Cölestin Ganglbauer (died 1889), who celebrated in 1877 the 1100th anniversary of the foundation, became Archbishop of Vienna in 1881 and was raised to the cardinalate in 1884. In the 20th century Dom Leander Czerny, the distinguished entomologist, was abbot from 1905 to 1929.
From the middle of the 17th century, thanks to an extensive programme of construction largely reusing older building materials, the premises grew so large that in the whole of Austria they were second only to Melk. The architect and builder was Jakob Prandtauer, who was also responsible for the abbey church at Melk.
Kremsmünster reached its greatest extent in the south wing, which is about 290 metres long. The most important rooms were situated here: the refectory, the library and the Emperor's Hall. The wing terminates to the east in the Mathematical Tower, 51 metres high, where the observatory is located. There is an interesting collection of objects of natural history in the lower part of the observatory, which is eight stories high; and a curious feature is the series of fish-tanks decorated with statues and a colonnade.
The main church construction was completed in 1277, in the late Romanesque and early Gothic styles. After 1613 the church was remodelled in the Baroque style. Between 1680 and 1720, the interior of the church was redecorated with splendid Baroque ornamentation to designs by Carlo Antonio Carlone, Giovanni Battista Colomba and Giovanni Battista Barberini.
Of especial note is the Baroque high altar, created by Johann Andreas Wolf in 1712, after twelve years of design and preparation. The angels by Johann Michael Zürn the younger, who kneel and stand at the numerous side-altars, are also impressive examples of the Austrian Baroque.
The magnificent monastery library was built between 1680 and 1689, also by Carlo Antonio Carlone. It is one of the great libraries of Austria and contains about 160,000 volumes, besides 1,700 manuscripts and nearly 2,000 incunabula.
The most valuable book is the 'Codex Millenarius', a Gospel Book written around 800 in Mondsee Abbey. Facsimiles of this codex may be found in the libraries of a number of universities throughout the world.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.