Have they always been like this?

Tempera painting - frater Simeon Grillenauer


Personalities of the Admont Monastic Convent in modern times

Father Prior Maximilian OSB
Abbey archivist

950 years of Admont Benedictine Abbey. "950 years a living monastery" is how the current abbot Gerhard Hafner likes to put it, and he deliberately uses the word "living" rather than the more common phrase "living monastery" in a monastic context. Austria's monastic landscape is characterised both by former monasteries and their impressive buildings as well as by living communities that try to follow the path of Jesus in their own tradition and spirituality.

A "living monastery" - and any attempt to define it on the basis of encyclopaedia articles should be avoided here - has led me to offer the following article to the gentle reader in the anniversary year of our monastery. For me, liveliness testifies to positive activity, breadth, interest, genius and originality, joy of life and faith. Liveliness is more than just being alive. The creativity of the Holy Spirit resonates here just as much as humour, curiosity, knowledge and the development of talents. The Admont Convent (= the community of monks) has lived these aforementioned terms over the last 950 years. Perhaps this is what continues to attract men to this monastery: The liveliness and the openness associated with it.

In this article, some Admont Benedictines are brought before the curtain of the abbey's historical stage. Not names that have been known for a long time; with all due respect to Fr Gabriel Strobl, Abbot Irimbert, Abbot Engelbert, Abbot Urban, Abbot Matthäus, Abbot Koloman, or my predecessors as abbey archivists, Fr Albert von Muchar, Fr Jakob Wichner and Fr Adalbert Krause. There are many other Benedictine monks from Admont who, each in their own time and in their own specific environment, have left their mark on this house in a less distinctive way than those mentioned above. They were all characterised by genius and originality, joie de vivre, knowledge, curiosity and a deep loyalty to the monastery on the Styrian Enns.

Admont Abbey - Monks in the Rosarium © Stefan Leitner

Admont Abbey - Monks in the Rosarium © Stefan Leitner

Parament 2


Since the founding of the monastery (1074), the traditional tasks of the Admont Benedictines have been pastoral care and education. In addition, some of the monks also developed artistic skills. Brother Benno Haan is well known as an embroiderer of paraments and his works enjoy the highest recognition. A few years after his death, another lay brother took his solemn vows in the collegiate church of Admont in 1724: Brother Simeon Grillenauer.

Born in 1694, this Bavarian had a talent for parchment and miniature painting. He painted numerous images of saints, framed by lavish and elaborate floral ornaments, often with monastic properties and castles in the background. Frater Simeon's works bear witness to a deep religiousness as well as a love of detail and creation. Two works by the lay brother also indicate that the artist had a good sense of humour. The two paintings on parchment depict the duties of a young religious.

One painting shows a young monk lying in bed ("In Lecto") under a blue chequered cloth. Next to him is a bedside table with an hourglass and inkwell on it, while a bookshelf can be seen in the background. The ornamental painting surrounding the scene, resembling a portal with garlands and angels, is typical of Frater Simeon. There are Latin inscriptions in cartouches, including "De morte et sepulchro cogitare" ("Be mindful of death and the grave"), in keeping with the idea of vanitas, but also the practical instruction that one should "not stay in bed beyond necessity" ("Ultra necessitatem in lecto non manere"). The other portrait refers to the duties of the young religious (shown kneeling) towards the abbot or superior ("Officia subditi erga superiore"). The enthroned abbot, wearing the pectoral, is clothed in the cuculum and accompanied by an angel, who shows the abbot's insignia (staff and mitre). The scene is set against an apsidal backdrop in which a monk is clearing the cobwebs with a broom and another is kneeling at a prayer stool. The six cartouches indicate what the young monk has to do: To love the superior like a father ("Superiorem amare ut patrem"), to listen to what he teaches ("Audire ut doctorem") or to patiently endure his faults ("Ipsius defectus patienter ferre"). Incidentally, Frater Simeon Grillenauer is also the creator of an interior view of the collegiate church painted on parchment. Apart from an early photograph, this is the only depiction of the Admont Abbey Church before the fire and the subsequent demolition work between 1865 and 1868.1


1) Cf: Wichner, Jakob: Kloster Admont in Steiermark und seine Beziehungen zur Kunst, 133-134.

One artistically active monk of the 20th century was P. Erwin Ehweiner. Born in 1908 in the parish of Kalwang, he had suffered from lung disease since his student days and was repeatedly hospitalised and spent months in pulmonary hospitals. The worry of an early death was so great that Erwin Ehweiner was allowed to take simple and solemn vows prematurely with Roman dispensation. Marked by illness, he celebrated his first Mass in his home parish in 1935. Through fervent prayer, he seemed to have been healed in 1938, an event that he passed on in handwritten form. Abbot coadjutor Bonifaz Zölss appointed him parish priest of St Martin am Grimming in the same year. Immediately after the end of the war and with the reopening of the monastery grammar school, Fr Erwin was ordered back to the monastery as a drawing teacher and prefect of the convent. In 1958, he received instructions from Abbot Koloman Holzinger to "be a faithful guardian of our shrine" and was appointed parish priest of Frauenberg. Fr Erwin was a gifted draughtsman: he designed many of his confreres' professorial certificates, as well as the seals of Frauenberg, Admont and other parishes, some of which are still in use today. The design of the alliance coat of arms of Abbot Koloman Holzinger was created by him, as were a large number of printed greetings cards and postcards with images of the monastery, the library, St Hemma and much more. Marked by his lung disease, Fr Erwin Ehweiner died in October 1970 at the age of 62. 2

Many Benedictine monks from Admont were drawn to music, especially church music. Numerous monks worked as organists, choirmasters and composers at the collegiate church and beyond. One representative of these musically active monks was Fr Philipp Pusterhofer. Born in Leoben in 1748, he graduated from grammar school in Admont and eventually joined the Benedictine community, to which he made his vows in 1767. Due to his excellent musical talent, he was appointed Regenschori of the monastery by the art and music-loving Abbot Matthäus Offner. In the years that followed, he performed major musical works on various occasions and assisted the students with dramatic musical performances in the then flourishing student theatre. After ten years of artistic work, he was appointed chaplain of St Gallen. During these five years of service, he also took over the church choir there before returning to the monastery for three years as a Sunday and holiday preacher. He was entrusted with the newly established parish and parish church of Gams as the first pastor. Father Philipp pursued this - initially difficult - activity for over ten years and always remained faithful to his beloved music. An eye ailment, possibly caused by all the composing, led to him being transferred to Frauenberg as confessor. In 1802, almost blind, he returned to Admont Abbey, where he died two years later at the age of 56. His obituary praises him not only as a brilliant musician, but also as a beloved confrere: "Vir optimus, animarum venator et confratrum suorum amor. Artis musicae peritissimus." His musical oeuvre is extensive and was performed in the parish churches of the monastery in the 19th century in particular: 164 graduals, four offertories, a Tantum ergo, two vespers, nine hymns, five Marian antiphons, as well as several masses and festive cantatas. His compositions are musically simple but very pleasing and were therefore popular with choirs in rural churches. 3


2) Admont Abbey Archives: AT-ABBA Aaa-143.

3) Cf. Wichner, Jakob: Zur Musikgeschichte Admonts, 47.

Tempera painting - frater Simeon Grillenauer

Tempera painting - frater Simeon Grillenauer

The Admont Benedictines seem to have been born with an interest in various branches of science. Since its foundation, there have been numerous members of the convent who have made a name for themselves as philosophers, theologians and historians, who continue to interest the world of research to this day and whose works have had a lasting impact.

A hitherto little-recognised scientist was P. Anton Hatzi (1816-1897). He worked on behalf of his monastery as a grammar school teacher in Judenburg and Graz respectively and was known and respected in both places for his excessive rigour. As a member of several botanical associations, he cultivated his expertise throughout his life. His meticulous notes "Botanical Excursions" bear witness to his love of natural science. Another focus of his life was the administration of the large Unterzeiring provostry on the Triebener Tauern. This important business of the foundation meant that he was allowed to live in the pretty provost's castle of Zeiring, celebrate services in St Agatha's castle chapel and also help out as a priest in the nearby parish churches of St Oswald and Oberzeiring. As as a grammar school teacher, his work as an estate administrator was characterised by extreme meticulousness. His extensive diary "Acta dierum in Zeiring", which he began in 1875 and continued until 1891, consists of several instalments. It provides fascinating insights into the workings of an estate at the end of the 19th century. In it, Father Anton not only describes his everyday errands, but also his relationship with the employees, farmhands, maidservants and neighbouring farmers. He kept meticulous records of the work done and the work to be done. Apparently the strict Sunday rest was also broken a few times, as he mentions an important service meeting on Sunday, 28 February 1875: "Mass read [...]. Long conference held with the Mair regarding this week's work: threshing, grain cleaning, manure transport, purchase of a manure sledge, mill transport, blacksmith's work and all the grain threshing since January 1875. All these things were noted down in detail." During his years as administrator of the Zeiring provostry, the botanist P. Anton developed great expertise in agricultural matters, as evidenced by another entry in the diary on 12 May 1876: "The Wehner farm brings a calf to be jumped by the smaller bull, which I forbid the forager to do in future. The same man asks for a cattle drive, which cannot be granted. Attended the sowing of the clover under the tillage, which had barely been completed when it began to rain again, so that the harrowing of the clover under the tillage had to be cancelled. Continuation of the potato cultivation on the Stadlfelde." 4


4) Admont Abbey Archives: AT-ABBA Aaa-39; AT-ABBA Aaa-24b.

Another natural scientist who is currently of interest to university research was P. Gotthard Wisiak (1783-1840). As a teacher at the monastery grammar school, he set up a "physics cabinet" in the monastery building, which unfortunately fell victim to the monastery fire in 1865. As a scientist, Fr Gotthard was deeply committed to meteorology. His weather reports and measurements make him one of the pioneers in this field in Austria. Equipped with the most necessary instruments, he recorded air pressure, temperature, humidity and observations on wind and weather on 1,576 days from 1814 to 1818 at 8 am, 3 pm and 10 pm. In addition to statistical analyses, the abbey archive also holds extensive monthly reports that were never published by the busy Father Gotthard. In addition to his interest in meteorology, this monk was also intensively involved in maths and chemistry. 5

Diaries, such as that of the above-mentioned P. Anton Hatziare among the most valuable sources of a monastery archive. Unfortunately, only a few diaries have survived in Admont. As a pastor in Hall, Fr Benedikt von Wellacher kept a diary that records the "most remarkable occurrences in the parish of Hall" from 1699 to 1718, the "Ephemerides Hallenses". Fr Benedikt, who came from the lower nobility, was born in Graz in 1659 and, like his brother Gregor, entered the Benedictine monastery of Admont, where he professed his vows in 1679. He worked as vicar of Hall and later as parish priest of Johnsbach, where he died in 1733 at the age of 74. His records of Baroque parish life in Hall bear witness to his great love for the people there. The Hall pilgrimage had just reached its peak: thousands of pilgrims flocked to the Church of the Holy Cross every year. Fr Benedikt reports on numerous festive services with the Admont abbots and monks, especially on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Extracts from his sermons are also recorded, as well as parish events and celebrations organised by the Schröckenfux family of tradesmen, who were always patrons of the church in Hall. 6

If there was talk of genius and madness at the beginning of this article, the following Admont monk probably belongs to the second category: P. Wilhelm Curti de Francini

5) Admont Abbey Archives: AT-ABBA Aaa-23a.

6) Wichner, Jakob: Admont Monastery and its relations

on science and teaching, 136.

Father Wilhelm Curti de Francini OSB

Father Wilhelm Curti de Francini OSB

In 1788, an abbatial election took place in Admont. This was remarkable in many respects: on the one hand, Emperor Joseph II was in power at the time, and his monastic reforms meant that free elections of abbots were hardly or not at all authorised. On the other hand, it was the first abbatial election in Admont without the participation or presence of the Archbishop of Salzburg (Admont and a large part of Upper Styria had belonged to the new diocese of Leoben since 1786). Finally, there were also major irritations due to a monk who was entitled to vote and disappeared without a trace shortly before the election. Johannes Nepomuk Josef Anton Curti de Francini, who came from an old Venetian noble family, was born in Graz in 1742 and professed his vows in Admont in 1761 with the religious name Wilhelm. He was ordained a priest five years later.7 In the list of conventions drawn up in 1788, it is described as "not applicable from the ordinariate". 8  and was even considered suspended. In the course of the election of the abbot, the question arose as to whether he even had the right to vote. Father Gotthard Kuglmayr, the later abbot, mentioned this in a letter to the superior of Maria Plain, the Admont conventual Father Gebhard Geist: "The name of Father Guilielm has not yet been omitted from the catalogue, whether he is already suspended by our Lord Bishop, who will also severely lift the suspension for this file, since Father Guilielm has secretly escaped from the monastery." 9  This "escape" lasted a few months, after which Fr Wilhelm returned to Admont. A little later we find him as chaplain in Frauenberg, where his portrait is still kept in the vicarage. One should not draw conclusions about a person from a picture, but this painting does harbour a touch of strangeness.

The biographical highlights of some Admont Benedictines presented in this article are representative of countless monks who have lived and worked from the founding of the monastery in 1074 to the present day. "Were they always like this?", the questioning title of this article, can be answered with: Yes, they were always like this, the Admont monks! Admittedly, the spirit of enquiry, scholarship, interest, genius and idiosyncrasy are not only applicable to the convent of Admont, but to all other religious communities. However, the openness and breadth of the tasks of Admont Abbey have certainly provided a breeding ground for the development of the Benedictines' talents and interests.


7) Cf. Professed Book of Admont Abbey (unpublished).

8) Diocesan Archives Graz-Seckau, 54-a-3/1, Graz, 2 June 1788.

9) Archives of the Archdiocese of Salzburg, 4/19/21 Admont, 4 October 1787.

Greeting card St Hemma of Gurk by Father Erwin Ehweiner OSB
Seal of the parish of Frauenberg an der Enns by Father Erwin Ehweiner OSB
Father Anton Hatzi OSB
Parament 2