Home Vast Medieval Monastery Plans Go Online

Vast Medieval Monastery Plans Go Online

We’ve mentioned the library at the monastery of St. Gall before, in our article “Check the Original Sources: Digital Manuscripts Online.” If you’re interested in the middle ages or in the digitization of our history, you’ll come across Switzerland’s St. Gall. Its library is so extraordinary it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

St. Gall isn’t resting on its admittedly substantial and ancient laurels. It has now helped to create an entire website devoted to a very important subset of its manuscripts, the St. Gall Monastery Plan website is devoted to “the earliest preserved and most extraordinary visualization of a building complex produced in the Middle Ages.”

The website, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was created in partnership with scholars from UCLA and the University of Virginia.

It “presents the plan, its origins, components, and notations, as well as four centuries of scholarship on the plan within the context of ninth-century material culture.” As the earliest and most complete plans for a monastery, including the abbey church and the multitude of other buildings an abbey requires, the Codex Sangallensis 1092 provides not only information for scholars seeking to understand early medieval life. It also provides them a mystery to solve.

“(T)he built structure does not entirely reflect the design of the church on the Plan; and the monastery complex foreseen by the Plan could not, in any case, have been fit onto the actual terrain of St. Gall.”

Because of this, most scholars see the Plan “less as a blueprint commissioned by Gozbert for St. Gall than as a generic solution developed by Carolingian monastic authorities for the ideal, or typical monastery that could be built anywhere in Europe. When and why they would have done so has been the focus of Plan research during the last fifty years.”

The Plan itself is extensive and all of that information is reproduced online along with scholarship relating to it.

“Drawn and annotated on five pieces of parchment sewn together, the St. Gall Plan is 112 cm x 77.5 cm and includes the ground plans of some forty structures as well as gardens, fences, walls, a road, and an orchard. The buildings are clearly identified by 333 inscriptions. Of course, primary among the buildings is a church (pictured above) with its scriptorium, sacristy, lodgings for visiting monks, and reception rooms. There is also a monastic dormitory, privy, laundry, refectory, kitchen, bake and brew house, guest house, abbot’s residence, and an infirmary. Finally, there are numerous buildings associated with the specialized economic operations of a complex community of over 110 monks and some 150 servants and workers.”

St. Gall has over 2,000 medieval and late antique manuscripts in its collection. But it also has over 400 digitized manuscripts in the University of Fribourg’s e-codices collection. This latest effort, which amounts to a multimedia database of Carolingian monastic culture, continues to place St. Gall close to the front and center of online digital resources for scholars and laymen interested in Western Europe’s late Roman and medieval past.

Other sources: @BibliOdyssey

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