Situated on an isolated rock commanding the Danube, Melk has been a noted place since the days of the Romans. A Slav settlement, Magalicha, replaced the Roman fort, and in its turn was destroyed by a Magyar invasion about 955, when it received the name Eisenburg. The Magyars, however, were driven out by Luitpold the Illustrious, first Margrave of Austria, who here fixed his capital and founded a church for secular canons. These having become lax, were replaced by twelve monks of Subiaco, whom Luitpold II brought from Lambach with Sijibold as their abbot in 1089. Melk was much favoured by St. Luitpold III, and the new foundation rapidly grew and flourished, its corn tithes being so abundant that the folk-name for Melk was "at the full bushel". It became a place of pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Coloman, and was famed for its great relic of the Holy Cross. By the fifteenth century monastic observance at Melk had become relaxed, but in 1418, at the request of Albert V, Archduke of Austria, Martin V sent the Ven. Nicholas of Magen with five other monks of Subiaco from the Council of Constance to begin a reform of the monasteries of Lower Austria. The Abbot of Melk, John of Flemming, voluntarily resigned, and Nicholas, elected in his stead, soon so reformed the observance in accordance with the constitutions of Subiaco that the abbey became a model for other houses in Austria. Several monasteries followed its example, among them Obenburg, Salzburg, Mariazell, the Scottish abbey at Vienna, Kremsmünster, Ratisbon, and Tegernsee. All these houses followed the same observance and styled themselves the Congregation of Melk. They in no way depended, however, on Melk, nor had they any general superior, soliciting visitors when needful from the pope. The Abbey of Melk continued in its first fervour of reform, and several attempts were made from 1460 onwards to effect a more formal union. In 1470 seventeen abbots of various neighbouring dioceses met at Erfurt and decided to establish in their monasteries the common observance and ceremonial of Melk. Nothing more definite occurred until Gaspar, Abbot of Melk, in 1618 invited the abbots of Austria to meet at Melk and form a congregation. The negotiations continued until 1623, when the Abbots of Melk, Kremsmünster, Garsten, the Scots' Abbey of Vienna, Altenburg, Gšttweich and Mariazell signed the constitutions agreed upon for the new congregation. These were confirmed by Urban VIII in 1625. In addition the congregation included the houses of Lambach, Monsee, Leittenstaden and Kleinck. It was governed by a superior general, elected every two years, who acted as visitor of all the monasteries of the congregation. Each province also had its own visitor. In 1630 there was an attempt to form a united congregation of all the monasteries of the empire, but the Swedish invasion frustrated this project, though many of the German monasteries thenceforth observed the constitutions of Melk. In the fourteenth century Melk, by permission of Duke Frederic I, had been fortified, and was thus able to resist successive sieges by Matthias Corvinus, by the revolted peasantry, by the Protestant States of Austria and by the Turks, though on each occasion the property of the abbey suffered. Great losses, too, were sustained at the hands of Napoleon's troops. In 1889 the Abbey of Melk was included by Leo XIII in the Austrian Congregation of the Immaculate Conception. In 1905 the congregation numbered 85, of whom 75 were priests. The present abbot, Joseph Charles (b. 1824, appointed 1875), exercises jurisdiction over 29 parishes, with 45,145 souls.
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