Although I grew up in the east of Austria, close to Klosterneuburg, Melk and other important monasteries, Admont is the first monastery I can remember visiting as a child.
Thoughts on the 2024 anniversary exhibition
Although I grew up in the east of Austria, close to Klosterneuburg, Melk and other important monasteries, Admont is the first monastery I can remember visiting as a child. From Lunz am See, where my family spent the summers, we travelled once a year via Göstling and Hieflau to the Gesäuse. Even the journey in an old VW bus and on narrow roads was exciting. Faced with ever higher mountains and narrowing gorges, I could hardly imagine that there was a large monastery behind them. But as soon as the valley widened, there it was, framed and embedded in an impressive landscape. Apart from the library and the natural history exhibits, I was particularly taken with the densely hung iron works of art on the wall of the old monastery smithy.
In view of these formative memories, it is a particular pleasure for me to be able to accompany an exhibition to mark the anniversary of this monastery. We, Michael Braunsteiner, Father Prior Maximilian Schiefermüller and the team from the abbey archive as curators and Alexander Kada as designer, are organising this exhibition as a tour through the history of the abbey in the literal sense. It is organised according to themes: the spiritual community, which had to face great challenges time and again; the impact of the monastery on the region; the scientific activities; the economic basis and finally the cultural activities, exemplified by works of fine art and music.
We begin our journey through time with the foundation of the monastery and the legends that have grown up around it. Every era has reinterpreted them. In addition to freely invented portraits of the founder Hemma von Gurk and Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg, we can also see a scientifically substantiated reconstruction of the archbishop's head and figure. We look Gebhard in the face, as it were, like a contemporary.
Admont is known to have experienced all the ups and downs of a Central European monastery over the following centuries, including the devastating fire of 1865, the particularly severe economic crisis of the 1930s and the abolition of the monastery under National Socialism. Much of this has only been analysed in more detail in recent years and the new research findings are presented in the exhibition.
Equally important to us is the presentation of the scientific curiosity that has characterised the monastic community since the beginning and which manifests itself in works from the library and the natural history collections. Exhibits and books reflect the broad interests, but also the passion of the researchers, whether it was Father Gabriel Strobl, who dedicated himself to the dipterans among insects, Guido Schenzl, who dealt with geomagnetism and isogons, or the historian Jacob Wichner, who combed through the extensive archive for his four-volume history of the monastery.
The fact that scientific research as well as spiritual and pastoral activities require an economic basis is also reported in another section of the exhibition, which is dedicated to historical and contemporary economic enterprises.
The following exhibition room offers a turn towards the existential, exploring the themes of death, life and resurrection, with the curatorial team deliberately juxtaposing Baroque paintings and prints with contemporary artistic works in order to emphasise the continuity of this existential theme as well as the diversity of its interpretations.
At the end of our tour, we invite visitors to pause and switch from looking to listening. Some pieces of music that have been written in connection with the monastery will be played, as well as texts that have been written about the monastery. And I would like to end with an excerpt from one of these: On shelf H of cupboard 93 on the upper floor of the library (I owe these references to Bodo Hell) there is a book by the travel writer Joseph August Schultes from 1804, in which he describes his departure from Admont.
This was very difficult for him and his fellow travellers because they were each captivated by a different "favourite object" - the landscape, the library, the surrounding flowers, the sound of the church organ. "It was only with great difficulty that we were able to tear ourselves away from the beautiful Admont, which kept each of us entangled in circaean nets (meaning the magic of the church, C.R.) during our short stay of five days." The monastery will succeed in weaving such nets in its jubilee year and certainly also in the future.