Zwettl Abbey was founded in 1137 by Hadmar I of Kuenring. The foundation was confirmed by Pope Innocent II (1140) and over the course of time by several other popes and emperors. Several members of the family of the founder were buried here.
The monastery was constructed, as Cistercian houses often were, in a river valley, in this case in a bend of the River Kamp. Extensive buildings were erected, and the church, chapter-room, and dormitory were blessed in 1159, though the entire monastery was not completed until 1218. Zwettl Abbey soon became one of the most important monasteries in the order.
Towards the end of the 14th century, the abbey was repeatedly plundered, especially in 1426, when 4,000 Hussites sacked and burned it down. It was rebuilt under Abbot John (1437–51). Near the end of the fifteenth century, over forty monks lived in Zwettl Abbey. Under the Protestant Reformation the community was reduced to six monks and one secular priest. By an imperial rescript the monastery was forced to sell one quarter of its large possessions. It flourished again under Abbot Erasmus (1512-1545) and his successors during the Baroque period, notwithstanding the Thirty Years' War and the Turkish invasion, during which it was saved from destruction by the friendship of the Count of Thurn for Abbot Siegfried.
During the administrations of Abbot Linck (1646–71), author of the Annales Austrio Claravallenses, and Abbot Melchior (1706-1747), who rebuilt a great part of the abbey and enriched it with many precious vessels and vestments, it reached its zenith. Abbot Melchior encouraged study and opened schools of philosophy, theology and so on in the monastery.
The monastery contains buildings of all architectural styles from Romanesque to Baroque. The modern form of the premises is the result of the Baroque refurbishment in the 18th century, which involved the reconstruction of the principal buildings. Among other parts the western tower was constructed by Josef Munggenast to plans by Matthias Steinl. Only one other tower in Lower Austria is higher than this building's 82 meters. Another part of this construction period is the library, which contains frescoes by Paul Troger.
From 1728 to 1731 Johann Ignaz Egedacher from Passau constructed the famous Egedacher Organ, one of the biggest and most expensive organs of the region of Vienna and Lower Austria.
The abbey's library contains over 60,000 volumes, 500 incunabula, and 420 manuscripts, the most famous of which is the Zwettl Stiftungsbuch ('cartulary').
The community now consists of 23 monks, who have care of fourteen incorporated parishes and four others. The monastery makes its living from a forest of about 2,500 hectares, a fish farm of 90 hectares, a farm of 110 hectares and the vineyards of Schloss Gobelsburg with about 35 hectares.
The monastery buildings now contain a school.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.