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Austrian abbey was originally a baroque castle

By Catholic Online
April 4th, 2011
Catholic Online (

Found on the bank of the Danube River between Salzburg and Vienna, Melk Abbey emerges crowned by towers and resplendent in a golden hue. It goes against the grain of what is popularly thought of as an abbey, a place of monastic living and quiet. In stark contrast, Melk Abbey stands crowned by towers and resplendent in a golden hue.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The impressive Baroque ensemble at Melk was built in 1702-1736 by architect Jakob Prandtauer. The abbey is blessed with magnificent frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr and the abbey's library contains countless medieval manuscripts.

The monastic community of Melk is over 900 years old. Black-robed Benedictine monks still stroll among the marble sculptures and frescoed walls. It is now also a prestigious coed monastery school with more than 700 students.

Melk has played an important role in the Danube region since Roman times, appearing in the German epic poem "Nibelungenlied," in which it is called "Medelike." The rock-strewn bluff where the abbey now stands was the seat of the Babenbergs, who ruled Austria from 976 until the Hapsburgs took over.

In the 11th century, Leopold II of Babenberg presented the palace at Melk to Benedictine monks, who turned it into an abbey. The abbey swiftly became a center of learning and culture and spread throughout Austria, as reflected in Umberto Eco's popular novel "The Name of the Rose". Eco researched his novel in the abbey's library.

Melk Abbey suffered damaged during the Reformation and the 1683 Turkish invasion, but it was spared direct attack when the Ottoman armies were halted outside Vienna. Reconstruction of the abbey began in 1702 in full Baroque style and was completed in 1736. The abbey church was damaged by fire in 1947, but is now almost completely restored.

Visitors to the Melk Abbey agree that the highlight of the trip is certainly the Stiftskirche (Abbey Church). The church has an astonishing number of windows and is richly embellished with marble and frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr with help from Troger.

There are fine views of the river from the abbey's terrace, which Napoleon probably used as a lookout when he used Melk as his headquarters for his campaign against Austria.

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