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Guest Post: Kremsmünster Abbey

A photo Kresmünster Abbey

Editor’s note: The photographs in this post were taken by Chris Ciolli.

It’s a cold, gray day made colder by a delicate mist of rain that sparkles in miniscule droplets on the leaves of the trees around the monastery, but immediately soaks through my lightweight jacket and chills to the bone. I try not to shiver when I look at Father Robert. He’ll be our tour guide, he explains in his Germanic-sounding Spanish, what would we like to see? He’s wearing a floor-length priest’s habit with crusty chunks of food stuck to the front of it. He smiles unconvincingly, showing off yellowed tombstone teeth below his beady eyes set in loose skin, mottled with age spots and the occasional whisker and I repress a shudder with a grimace, because frankly, man of the cloth or no, he gives me the creeps.

I look down like a shy teenager and mumble to the floor about how much I would like to see the library.

A photo Kresmünster Abbey

The other tour members (fellow journalists from Spain) want to see the Abbey’s observatory, but Father Robert is even less enthusiastic than I am about traipsing up flight after flight of stairs to get to the top. It’s almost five, he says, by way of explanation. We’ll go see the Tassilo Chalice, a hefty copper and silver-gilt goblet donated to the Abbey by its founder, Tassilo III of Bavaria. Legend has it that Tassilo founded the monastery in 777 in the exact spot where his son Gunther was attacked and killed by a wild boar during a hunting expedition. I wonder idly if they caught the boar, and if, when they did, they feasted on it around a roaring fire, and toasted Bavaria’s lost son.

I trail behind the rest of the group through halls dimly illuminated by the fading light of day, trying not to think about horror novels and evil beings that lurk in darkest corners. This is a holy place, I tell myself, trying to talk my imagination down from that dangerous ledge. I’ll want to sleep later.

The darkening hallways finally lead to an even darker room. The Tassilo Chalice shines below soft lights as Father Robert tells us the Pope has used it in masses in Austria and comments that it weighs six kilos. I imagine it would make a great murder weapon for a historical suspense novel – an ambitious priest argues with his superior, grabs a blunt object and has bludgeoned his elderly and malevolent colleague before he regains control of his baser instincts. I catch Father Robert looking at me curiously, and look away from the Chalice.

A photo Kresmünster Abbey

I’m grateful to abandon the small room that houses the chalice, even in favor of more hallways and rooms populated with swiftly growing shadows, because it means we’ll soon be among my favorite things: books.

Father Robert fights with a heavy wooden door, holding it open for us to file in. The library is a 17th century fairy tale for book-lovers. I start as the door, cleverly made to resemble bookcases, slams shut behind Father Robert and becomes just another wall of books. Towering shelves are crowded with tomes. Ladders lean against the shelves, and upholstered chairs cozy up to small tables on wide plank floors. The last rays of sun stream in through massive windows and I squint to make out rolling green mountains in the distance. A large globe dominates one side of the room. A few feet away, there are wooden cases with glass lids, home to the Codex Millenarius, an ancient book containing all four Gospels, written in Latin around 800 A.D. in Mondsee Abbey.

A photo Kresmünster Abbey

The manuscript is almost as ornate as the library’s frescoed ceilings, painted with Greek masters and scenes from the Bible. I close my eyes and breath deep. I wish Father Robert and the other people on the tour away, thinking I would like nothing better than to spend a few months here, lost in the 160,000 books, 1,700 manuscripts and 2,000 incunabula (printed materials from before the year 1501). I could spend my life getting lost in the worlds created by words.

A fellow visitor nudges me accidentally, and I open my eyes wide, my book fantasies slipping through my fingers as Father Robert drones on about how most of the books are in Latin, Greek or German… languages I don’t speak, understand… or read.

About Kremsm√ľnster Abbey: A Benedictine monastery located in Kremsmünster, Upper Austria, Kremsmünster is known for its observatory, the Tassilo Chalice and its 17th century library. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes from Salzburg and two and a half hours from Vienna by car. For more information about tours and visiting Kremsmünster, consult the Abbey’s official website.

Chris Ciolli's Twitter picture

Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer, translator and artist with strong Midwestern roots. She spends her spare moments traveling, reading, slurping coffee and wine and playing with her watercolors and kitchen tools (not at the same time). For more information about her writing or translating services look her up at Catch up on her adventures in the world and authentic recipes from all over at Or check out her original art and jewelry at Chris can be found on Twitter @ChrisCiolli.



November 28, 2012, 8:12 am

[…] Read more about my experience in my guest post at The Wormhole.¬† This entry was posted in Austria Travel, Europe Travel, Uncategorized, World […]

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