Words largest monastic library
Since its foundation in 1074, i.e. since almost one thousand years, Admont Benedictine Monastery has collected and preserved cultural goods. In this respect the library has a special position.
This library is one of the most important cultural properties of our country and is one of the largest late Baroque works of art in Europe. Perhaps a little overenthusiastically but at the same quite justifiably, since the early 19th century the Admont library has been called the “eighth wonder of the world”. It represents a repository of knowledge containing examples of the artistic and historical development of books over the centuries - from the manuscripts of the medieval Admont writing school over the collection of incunabula (early printed books) to the fully developed printing process.
As a work of art, the library should be viewed as a whole in which the various genres (architecture, frescoes, sculptures, written and printed matter) blend into one work - in the final analysis, the central place of books in the history of the development of the Benedictine Order.
The late Baroque library, completed in 1776, was commissioned by Abbot Matthäus Offner (reigned 1751-1779) and built by the Graz Master Builder Josef Hueber (1715-1787). Hueber was imbued with the ideas of the Enlightenment: “As with the mind, light should also fill the room”. With a length of 70 m, a width of 14 m and 11 m in height (12.7 m in the central cupola) and divided into three, this room is the largest monastery library room in the world. The Austrian National Library in Vienna served Hueber as a pattern.
The seven ceiling frescoes created by the 80-year-old Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694-1783) in the summer months of the years 1775 and 1776 also breathe the spirit of the Enlightenment. They show the steps in man’s exploration of thinking and speaking from the sciences to Divine Revelation in the central cupola. The bookcases under this cupola alone contain editions of the Bible and the Church Fathers, those in the North side room theological literature and those in the South room all the other subjects.
The monastery sculptor Josef Stammel (1695-1765), one of the most important Baroque sculptors, created the extensive carvings in the room. Particularly famous is “The Four Last Things”, a group of four over-lifesize presentations of Death, the Last Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
The Admont library is a historical monument to book culture with an importance far beyond the region. At the same time it offers equally valuable and exhaustive source material of the surrounding country. The total collection of books comprises some 200,000 volumes. The most valuable treasures are the more than 1,400 manuscripts (the earliest from the 8th century) and the 530 incunabula (early printed books before 1500).
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Josef Stammel, Universum (c. 1760) Stereoscopic photograph taken in 1860.
At about the time he was creating his ‘Four Last Things’ (1760), Josef Stammel was probably working on another sculpture, his so-called ‘Universum’ (The Universe). This sculptural group, which is quite unique in the catalogue of Baroque iconography, was originally positioned in the centre of the rotunda of Admont library: