Benedictines, Order of

   Originating in Italy, the Benedictines played a central role in the Christianization of Austria. Their first establishments date from the 7th through the 10th centuries. During this time, they were often competing with Irish monastic practice, which also appeared early in the Austrian lands. The Benedictines served more than spiritual functions; they also cleared and cultivated the land that they occupied.
   Invasions by the Magyars in the 10th century temporarily brought much of their work to a standstill. However, following the defeat of these raiders from the east by Otto I, the emperor in Germany, the Benedictines resumed their work and became the dominant cloistered order of Austria in the period between 1060 and 1230. Thirteen of medieval Austria’s 22 Benedictine monasteries still exist. Among these are St. Peter (ca. 700) in Salzburg; Kremsmünster (777) and Lambach (1056) in Upper Austria; Göttweig (1094), Melk (1089), and Altenburg (1144) in Lower Austria; Admont (1074) and St. Lambrecht (1076) in Styria; and the Schotten (Irish) Monastery (1158) in Vienna. Of the original nunneries, there is only one left, Nonnberg in Salzburg.
   The Benedictines were medieval Austria’s teachers and scholars. The larger cloisters, such as Göttweig and Kremsmünster, operated both internal schools for their own clergy, and external academies that trained young boys, largely from the nobility, who would follow secular careers. The Benedictines were also notable scholars and writers, not only in Latin but in the German of the day. Melk was a center of vernacular religious and didactic poetry. The oldest named female author in the German language is in all likelihood Frau Ava, a member of a nunnery associated with Melk. Before her death around 1127, she composed a rhymed history of the life of Jesus and a poem on the last judgment.
   The cultural high point of Benedictine monastic life in Austria came during the era of the Baroque. In the wake of the triumphant Counter-Reformation of the 17th and early 18th centuries, the cloisters were turned into residential castles and hired the finest architects to design and supervise the transition. While they continued their educational and scholarly missions, the Benedictine cloisters became theatrical and musical centers as well. To this day, many Benedictine abbeys have high schools and continue to house some members who carry on professional scholarly activities. They have always enjoyed a large degree of independence, even though there has been a central office for the order in Austria since 1930.
   See also Catholicism; Education; Music; Religion.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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