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Abbey of St. Gall

By Carol Colborn

What is the Abbey of St. Gall?

The Abbey of St. Gall in Switzerland is a great example of a large monastery from the 8th century and remained one of the most important in Europe until its secularization in 1805. Its most important features are a beautiful Baroque cathedral and one of the oldest libraries in the world and, for a long time, the richest.

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Library interior with orate painted ceiling and two floors of shelves full of books.

Why is the Abbey of St. Gall a UNESCO World Heritage site?

This large Benedictine monastery, according to UNESCO, represents “1200 years of continuous activity” from its inception in the 8th century. It is a remarkable architectural complex with varied period influences on the different edifices around the main square.

The main building is the ancient church flanked by two towers rebuilt in Baroque style in the mid-1700s. There is also an ancient cloister that houses the library which contains precious manuscripts including the earliest-known architectural plan drawn on parchment.

Also part of the abbey are the present seat of the canton authorities as well as newer buildings from the 16th century: the ancient arsenal, the Children’s and Guardian Angels’ Chapel and the former Catholic school.

A decorative bay window painted brightly.

What can you expect on a visit to the Abbey of St. Gall?

The abbey’s cathedral is gorgeous, especially with its two beautiful towers. But it is the abbey’s library that will take your breath away. It put us back in medieval times when books were more precious than gold. The ceiling is one of a kind, not just painted, but a three-dimensional work of art. The shelves are of heavy wood, opening up to reveal more secrets behind. And the lovely old floor had to be protected by soft cloth booties we had to wear! But its collection of books is what gives it wealth.

The statue of St. Gallen also stands at the square. He was from Ireland, a true cultural and spiritual leader in the 900s. He was credited with spreading his influence into the heathen Germany of the time.

The Baroque towers on the  Abbey's cathedral.

Is the Abbey of St. Gall worth visiting?

The abbey is certainly worth visiting, and travelers who love history and culture would absolutely enjoy this town too, called St. Gallen.  It is worth visiting on its own. St. Gallen features 111 balconies that adorn the buildings around the city of over 75,000 people. We chanced upon six of them just around the Old Town near the Visitor Information Center and wished we had more time to view more.

Before reaching Old Town from the train station, you will encounter the few blocks called the Red Square, where tables, benches, stairs and the ground are all harmoniously carpeted red.

A sports car that is entirely covered in a bright red surface.

We ran out of time, however, to explore the Textile Museum which contains thousands of pieces of antique lace found in Egyptian Coptic tombs. We concluded that it would have been better if we had spent at least two days in the town.

Use the map below to book your accommodations in St. Gallen:

Tips for visiting the Abbey of St. Gall

This is an entirely walkable town but wear something comfortable on your feet. There is not a lot of crowd as it is off the beaten path. Enjoy meals at quaint restaurants, too. We enjoyed our visit here very much.

Tours and other activities in St. Gallen.

For more information about the Abbey of St. Gall, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website (in German; use Google translate).

Text and photos provided by Carol Colborn of Carolina: Cruising Past 70. After a jet-setting career with pioneering IT companies in the Philippines, Carol migrated to the US and now blogs about her travels with her husband. She has published three travel books, all available at Amazon, and also writes for Travel Awaits, an e-magazine. 

Have you been to the Abbey of St. Gall? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

Text: Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland. Images: above, the baroque towers of the abbey cathedral; below, the ornate library interior.

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