According to the chronicles of Hermann of Reichenau, Pfäfers Abbey was founded in 731. The founding legend refers to the itinerant bishop Saint Pirmin, with the first documentary mention of the abbey in 762. The monastery controlled the important route through the Kunkels Pass to the passes into Italy in the Graubünden.

Early history

In 840, Emperor Lothair I, king of Northern Italy and, nominally, Emperor of the Franks, assured the monastery the right of freely electing its abbot. This was extended in 861 to include ecclesiastical immunity and royal protection. The East Frankish king Louis the Child gave Pfäfers, in 905, to Solomon III, Bishop of Constance, who was also the abbot of St Gall. Between 914 and 949, the Abbey of St. Gall and the bishop of Chur fought over the protectorship of the Abbey. Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, finally confirmed again in 949 the right free of free election of the abbot to the monks themselves. During the Investiture Controversy, Pfäfers again fell under foreign control, however. In 1095, Henry IV gave the abbey to the diocese of Basel, which exchanged the abbey with Henry V in 1114 for the castle of Rappoltstein in Alsace; only the intervention of Pope Paschal II in 1116 restored the monastery's freedom. During the early Middle Ages Pfäfers remained the most important monastery in the diocese of Chur, and intellectual centre of the region. The three most important Chur-Raetian manuscripts were made in Pfäfers.

After Reformation

The monastery was caught in the turmoil of the Swabian War and the Protestant Reformation and the general financial and political difficulties that engulfed the region. Abbot John Heider (1586–1600) managed briefly to restore the original position of the monastery, but under his successors the situation worsened so the Swiss Confederacy took over administration of the monastery.

In 1665 a fire destroyed the medieval monastery and church. In 1672, Abbot Justus Zink presented plans by John Serro and Giuglio Barbieri for rebuilding the abbey, in the Baroque style, closer to the mountain slope, in the present dominant position, with the first rooms ready for occupation in 1674. Because of the disastrous financial situation, Abbot Zink was forced to resign in 1676, passing control to the Swiss Congregation of the Benedictine Confederation. His successor, Abbot Boniface I Tschupp, managed the financial recovery and completed the construction in 1694, with the new abbey church dedicated in the same year.

In 1794, a revolt of the monastery's subjects was crushed by the Vogt of Sargans. On 11 November 1798, during the French Revolutionary Wars, the county of Sargans was released by the Confederation and Abbot Benedict Bochsler had to free his subjects in a similar manner. After the French invasion, the monastery was abolished and partially destroyed. In 1801, the abbot returned with some brothers and, in 1803, the monastery was formally restored, after the founding of the canton of St. Gallen.

Financial struggles prompted the last abbot of the monastery Plazidus Pfister, 1838 in Rome to request the secularization of the abbey, a request to which Pope Gregory XVI acceded in a letter dated 20 March 1838. Later the Great Council of the canton of St Gallen declared that the monastery be secularised and removed its assets. In 1845, in the buildings of the abbey was founded the cantonal asylum of St. Pirminsberg, today's St Pirminsberg Psychiatric Hospital. The precious artefacts from the abbey were auctioned and scattered in museums around the world.

From 1619 to 1845 the bones of the archpriest Nicolò Rusca were kept in the monastery Pfäfers, who is currently nominated for beatification; today these relics are in the Collegiate Church of Sondrio in Valtellina.

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Founded: 731 AD
Category: Religious sites in Switzerland

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