Kloster Kremsmünster

Abbey Journey from Bavaria to Upper Austria

Abbeys along the Danube

What abbeys are to us today. A journey from Bavaria to Upper Austria along the Danube.

Our present times have already influenced life behind the abbey walls. It is not unusual for abbeys to present themselves on the internet, to run a blog, to participate in social media and to open their doors to every man, but also almost always to “every woman”. That the Fathers tell about their holidays on Facebook and Masses can be co-designed on Twitter. Today, abbeys also have to be able to do more than in the past: they act as hosts, for a “temporary retreat”, as a yoga location or help us to find our centre again. Whether with silence, meditation or herbal courses – abbeys now offer almost everything we think we need for our well-being.

It may sound abstruse at first. To associate abbeys, monks and priests with wellness, digital detox or fasting weeks. Yet it is obvious: abbeys were not always exclusively places of retreat for prayer for the inhabitants.

Stift St. Florian
Stift St. Florian
Being a guest in the abbey

Depending on the order, abbeys have almost always had other duties in addition to prayer, work or pastoral care. They also offered overnight accommodation for travellers on horseback and in carriages who were travelling along the Road of Emperors and Kings or who travelled by ship on the Danube during the day and stopped at the abbey for the night. Many abbeys used to have their own theatre halls to entertain their overnight guests in the evening. Marie Antoinette, for example, was refreshed and fed at Lambach Abbey on her bridal journey to Paris, and was also treated to a theatre performance. As we know today, she did not have much more to look forward to.

The Mozart family, too, always stopped off at abbeys on their numerous journeys: Not without quickly composing for their hosts or playing music for other guests. Wolfgang A. Mozart travelled almost more than he stayed at home during his short life, and abbey accommodation was a common custom. The Benedictines also enshrined in their religious rules that they should welcome travellers and offer a hospitable home – this idea runs through all the guest houses of Benedictine abbeys today.

Abbeys were places of archives for musical pieces and handwritten sheet music. Copyists travelled from place to place in Europe to collect these pieces of music and then only found suitable writing rooms in the abbeys in order to finally “copy” regional works, i.e. transcribe them and bring them home.

Today, the abbeys along the Danube offer an even greater variety of additional services for holidaymakers, cyclists, excursionists, people seeking peace and quiet and pilgrims than in the past.  Today, abbeys are economic institutions that have to be maintained and managed, heated and restored. No easy undertaking, like any large enterprise it often fails because of money – the abbey is supposed to finance itself through these additional services and the opening to the outside world.

Stift Reichersberg © Kloesterreich
Stift Reichersberg © Kloesterreich
Out of the monastery walls, into life.

Very close to the German border is Austria´s only Trappist abbey in Engelszell. The Trappists still live a secluded life without external pastoral care tasks, but when it comes to “authentic Trappist products”, namely the sale of their beers and liqueurs, they also step out into the public a little. Through the abbey shop and even an online shop, one can enjoy these products: There are only nine brothers who live and work here, plus a few employees.

Reichersberg Abbey

Around the corner and also very close to Germany is the Reichersberg Abbey of the Augustinian canons, which seems to have made the leap into our modern times. A perfect and highly up-to-date website, numerous cultural events, gallery events, further education opportunities and its own education centre. In addition, an unusually young provost, their own economic director and many canons who also pursue their duties outside the abbey walls and thus “in real life” on a daily basis and are only present for morning and evening prayers. Guided tours are a matter of course here and it is especially welcome if you also take part in the prayers of the canons as an excursionist. Even as an outsider you cannot always follow the order of the prayers and psalms – sometimes it is enough just to listen and indulge your thoughts.

“Live with joy” is the guiding principle at Reichersberg Abbey. A particularly beautiful saying that shows that abbey life does not always take place silently and behind thick walls in the cloister, but goes out: to the guest, to those seeking peace, to culture lovers and to those seeking conversation. All of this can be “booked” in the abbeys nowadays – and often health offers as well.

Cistercian Abbey Wilhering & St. Florian Abbey

Rococo in the Danube Valley? Despite its pomp, the Cistercian Abbey of Wilhering sees itself as “very close to the people” – not only through its own abbey gymnasium and the youth, but above all through culture, the music archive, the art collections. Huge farms are still cultivated here and partly leased out. “Art, enjoyment and soul” – Schweiklberg Abbey sums up what its house stands for in today’s world, and there is also time to actively support aid projects in Africa.

“Experience the abbey to the full” – this is how unusually St. Florian Abbey invites children, young people, pilgrims, holidaymakers and hungry excursionists into its monastery walls. Here, where Anton Bruckner was organist and the famous Bruckner Days take place, almost all doors are open to those who are interested or searching. Live with us, stop in for a short or long time, pray with us, get a taste of what it’s like, go on a retreat or simply have an excellent (also vegan) meal here on Sundays. St. Florian Abbey is a particularly uncomplicated way to find out what makes monasteries tick today.

Order of the Sisters of Mary of Karmel

Food for the soul: The Order of the Sisters of Mary of Karmel took over the Kneipp Centre in Bad Mühllacken in the Pesenbach Valley in the 1930s and today is the top dog in fasting and detoxing when it comes to “Traditional European Medicine”. Because herbs and monastery gardens have always been the task of religious houses, and this has not changed to this day.

The easiest way to get to know an abbey is to take a guided tour, which is offered almost everywhere and usually takes you through the state rooms, the inner courtyards, the banqueting halls and the cloisters, and often also into the fantastic libraries and refectories. Some of the abbeys show off their fish stalls, others are proud of their art treasures, their music archives, relics or the dedicated confreres who work in the parishes, as pastors or teachers. During evening prayer at Reichersberg Abbey, for example, one brother’s mobile phone may ring by mistake, while the other, dressed in a motorbike outfit, swoops in directly from the prison chaplaincy. These are the small moments when we, as short-term visitors to the abbey, realise:

Monastic life is a wide land and as diverse as our lives outside the monastery life is. An abbey today is a company that has to survive. A business that has to function and a family in which not everyone is always on the same wavelength. Just like in real life.

Marienschwestern © TEM Bad Mühllacken
Marienschwestern © TEM Bad Mühllacken
Links to Emperors and Kings Hot Spots
Culinary delights in the abbey - Hidden Secrets