Muri, (Muri-Gries), an abbey of monks of the Order of S. Benedict, which flourished for over eight centuries at Muri near Basle in Switzerland, and which is now established under Austrian rule at Gries near Bozen in Tyrol.
The monastery of St. Martin at Muri in the Canton of Aargau, in the Diocese of Basle (but originally in that of Constance), was founded in 1027 by the illustrious house of Hapsburg. Rha, a daughter of Frederick, Duke of Lorraine, who married Rabets, Count of Hapsburg, and Werner, Bishop of Strasburg, with one accord gave the lands, which each possessed at Muri, to a monastery which they established in that place. To people the new foundation a colony of monks was drawn from the Abbey of St. Meinrad at Einsiedeln, under the leadership of Prior Reginbold, on whose death in 1055 the first abbot was chosen in the person of Burchard. During his rule the abbey church was consecrated in 1064; it was for many years the burial place of the Hapsburg dynasty. About this time the community was reinforced by the accession of a new colony of monks from the Abbey of St. Blaise in the Black Forest, one of whom, the blessed Luitfrid, continued the government of both communities till his holy death December 31, 1096. During the Middle Ages the monastery, like so many hundreds of similar institutions of the Benedictine Order, pursued its quiet work of religion and civilization, and enjoyed the advantage of being governed by a remarkable succession of able men. Among the names of its more distinguished abbots are those of Ranzelin; Cuno, founder of its school, and a generous benefactor to the library of the monastery; Henry Scheuk who greatly increased its landed property; and Henry de Schoenwerd. The history of the last named presents a curious instance, almost without parallel, of a whole family embracing the religious life. The father with his sons entered the abbey of the monks, whilst his wife and daughters betook themselves to the adjoining convent of nuns, a community which later on was transferred to Hermetschwil, a mile or two distant from Muri. The good reputation enjoyed by the Abbey of Muri procured it many friends. In 1114 the Emperor Henry V took it under his special protection; and the popes on their side were not less solicitous for its welfare; it would seem however, that the use of pontificalia was not granted to the abbots of Muri until the time of Pope Julius II (1503-1513).
Like all other institutions the place had its vicissitudes of good and bad fortune. It was laid low by two disastrous conflagrations, in 1300 and in 1363; wars and risings checked for a time its prosperity. It recovered somewhat of its old life under Abbot Conrad II, only to suffer again under his successor George Russinger in the war between Austria and Switzerland. Russinger had taken part in the Council of Constance and had caught something of the reforming spirit of that assembly. He was the means of aggregating his community to the newly formed Congregation of Bursfeld, the first serious attempt to bring about among the continental monasteries of northern Europe a sane and much needed reform of the Black Monks of St. Benedict. It was owing to him too that the Helvetic Confederation took over, as it were, the old Hapsburg friendliness towards his abbey which, thus strengthened both in its inner life and observance, and safe under the protection of the new political powers, was enabled to withstand the shock of the religious wars and ecclesiastical upheavals which marked the advent of the Protestant Reformation. When the first fury of that movement had abated Muri was fortunate in having as abbot a man of remarkable ability. Dom John Jodoc Singisen elected in 1596 proved himself a second founder of his monastery, and extending his care to the other Benedictine houses of Switzerland is rightly revered as one of the founders of the Swiss Congregation established in 1602. Largely through his efforts discipline was everywhere restored; monks of piety and letters went forth from Muri to repeople the half ruined cloisters; by his wisdom suitable constitutions were drawn up for such communities of nuns as had survived so many revolutions. His successor Dom Dominic Tschudi was a man of like mould, and a scholar whose works were held in great repute. He was born at Baden in 1595 and died there in 1654. His “Origo et genealogia comitum de Hapsburg” is his best known work. With the eighteenth century fresh honors came to Muri. The Emperor Leopold I created Abbot Placid Zurlauben and his successors Princes of the Holy Roman Empire, and spent a vast sum of money in rebuilding and embellishing the monastery and church, the ancient mausoleum of the imperial family. The abbey continued to prosper in every way; good discipline was kept up and many distinguished ecclesiastics and learned men were educated within its walls.
With the spread of revolutionary ideas, however, a great and disastrous change was impending. Some of the Swiss Cantons, Aargau among them, following the melancholy example of the revolutionary party which had wrecked religion in France, turned all their energies to the overthrow of the monasteries, the confiscation of their estates, and the elimination of Catholic influence from civil life. They were only too successful. Muri after a long series of attacks was obliged to succumb. Its abbot, an old man, had withdrawn to the monastery of Engelberg, more favorably situated, and there died on November 5, 1838, leaving to his successor, D. Adalbert Regli, the brunt of the final conflict. The crisis came when on a winter’s day in 1841 an armed force drove the monks into exile and the cantonal authorities seized the abbey and its estates. Despite this violent expulsion the community never wholly disbanded; the abbot and some of the monks held together and soon found a welcome from the Catholic Canton of Unterwalden, which invited them to undertake the management of the cantonal college at Sarnen. The kindly offer was accepted, and there the main body of the monks resided, the Lord Abbot himself taking his share in the school work, until the Austrian Emperor, Ferdinand I, offered them a residence at Gries near Bozen in Tyrol, in an old priory of Augustinian Canons of the Lateran which had been unoccupied since 1807. The Holy See concurred in the grant, and confirmed the transfer of the community of Muri to Gries by a Brief of Gregory XVI, dated September 16, 1844. In order to avoid complications the house of Gries was continued in its former status as a priory and incorporated with the Swiss Abbey of Muri, which is regarded as temporarily located in its Austrian dependency, the Abbot of Muri being at the same time Prior of Gries. The persecution which drove the community from its stately home at Muri seems in no way to have lessened the numbers and good works of the monks; indeed there has been a notable increase in the personnel of the convent in recent years and fresh demands are ever being made on their manifold activities. At Gries itself, the center of this fraternity of nearly a hundred monks (over seventy priests and clerics, the rest lay brothers), who constitute the monastic family of St. Martin of Muri, the monks conduct a college of 158 boys, and also a training college for schoolmasters attended by nearly sixty students; while at Sarnen in Switzerland their college educates about two hundred and forty boys, and at the technical school in the same place, carried on by the monks, the classes number usually between seventy and eighty scholars. The Abbot of Muri has under his care five “incorporated” parishes with two chapels of ease serving for the spiritual needs of about nine thousand souls; another parish, not incorporated with the abbey, ministers to about 418 people; and the oversight of the convent long established at Hermetschwil Habsthal near Muri is also included in the work of the monks of Muri Gries.
JOHN GILBERT DOLAN