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Benedictine abbey in Austria

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Kremsmunster, Benedictine abbey in Austria, on the little river Krems, about twenty miles south of Linz; founded A.D. 777 by Tassilo II Duke of Bavaria, who richly endowed it, as did subsequently Charlemagne and his successors. The first colony of monks came from Lower Bavaria, and Fatericus was the first abbot. The position and reputation of the monastery soon became such that its abbots, in the absence of the bishop of the diocese (Passau), exercised the episcopal jurisdiction. In the tenth century the abbey was destroyed in an incursion of the Hungarians, and its possessions divided among the Duke of Bavaria and other nobles and the bishops; but it was restored, and recovered its property, under the Emperor Henry II, when the holy and zealous Gothard became abbot. In the following century Kremsmunster shared the general decadence of religious houses, and fell into decay, which was fortunately arrested by the action of the excellent Bishop Altmann of Passau, who brought a community from Gottesau, and introduced the reformed observance of Cluny into the abbey. After this it became known as one of the most flourishing houses in Germany, “excelling all other abbeys”, says an anonymous chronicler, “in observance and piety, also in respect to its lands, buildings, books, paintings, and other possessions, and in the number of its members prominent in learning and in art”. The monastic library was famous, and drew eminent scholars to study at Kremsmunster, where several important historical works were written, including histories of the bishops of Passau and of the dukes of Bavaria, and the chronicles of the abbey itself. Schrodl (Kirchenlex. VII, 1053) gives a list of writers connected with Kremsmunster from the eleventh to the sixteenth centuries, and of their literary labors. One of the most distinguished abbots was Ulrich Schoppenzaun (1454-1484), and it was owing to his attainments and zeal, and those of his disciple and successor Johann Schreiner (1505-1524), that at the critical time when the Reformation errors were beginning to spread in Germany, Kremsmunster held firmly to the old faith and doctrines.

From the Reformation period onwards nearly every abbot who ruled the monastery proved himself pious and learned, zealous and patriotic, ready to make all needful sacrifices for his country and his emperor. Abbot Lechner, towards the middle of the sixteenth century, constituted the hitherto private monastic school into a public school, and did much to preserve Catholicism in the district, where the Protestant doctrines had become widely prevalent. Abbot Weiner (1558-1565) unfortunately favored the new teaching, thus introducing into the abbey dissension which nearly developed into disruption. This was, however, prevented by the zeal of succeeding abbots; and Abbot Wolfradt especially (1613-1639) brought the monastery into so highly flourishing a condition that he was known as its third founder; while its reputation as a house of studies and learning was even increased under his successor, Placid Biichauer (1644-1669). Among the abbots of the eighteenth century the most prominent and distinguished was Alexander Fixl-millner (1731-1759), who built the great observatory, constructed many roads on the monastic estate, and was a man of most edifying life and unbounded charity to the poor. Towards the end of this century the drastic and innovating policy of the Emperor Joseph II, especially with regard to the religious houses of his dominions, brought Kremsmunster, like other great foundations, to the verge of suppression; but it happily escaped this fate. The house suffered much during the long Napoleonic wars, and was slow in recovering its position. It was not until the abbacy of Thomas Mitterndorfer (1840-1860) that, with its material position reinforced, and learning and discipline again flourishing within its walls: it regained all its former prestige. One of the most illustrious abbots in recent times was Dom Celestine Ganglbauer, who celebrated in 1877 the eleven-hundredth anniversary of the foundation, became Archbishop of Vienna in 1881, and was raised to the cardinalate in 1884 (d. 1889). The present abbot is Dom Leander Czerny, who succeeded Abbot Achleutner in 1905.

The community of Kremsmunster Abbey numbers about a hundred members. The abbey has the cure of souls of twenty-six parishes (population over 42,000), and within the precincts are a Gymnasium, or boys’ school (300 pupils), of high reputation, and a school of philosophy. The imposing pile of buildings, as they now stand: are mostly of the eighteenth century. The valuable library contains some 70,000 volumes, 1700 manuscripts, and nearly 2000 incunabula. There is an interesting collection of objects of natural history in the lower part of the observatory, which is eight stories high; and a curious feature is the series of fish tanks decorated with statues and a colonnade.


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