Admont is a quiet little town in the Styrian mountains that, while pretty and a great base for exploring the Gesäuse National Park, wouldn’t normally be big enough to register much on a week or so’s visit to Austria. We have a pile of great friends there (why we do is a whole other story that goes back over half a century), but that aside one other noteworthy thing that might pull in visitors is a nine hundred year-old Benedictine monastery.
On our previous trip there two years ago we were privileged to receive a private tour of its famous library – the largest monastery library in the world and a stunningly beautiful place too.
This year, we took a tour of its museum, a testament to many years’ research in various subjects such as natural sciences. There’s a strong educational streak through the monastery, not only with its library and museum but also an art gallery and schools in the town that the monastery runs.
The museum, in which you’re not allowed to take photos (ahem), there’s an incredible range of dead animals, the fruits of the efforts of one monastery official who was a keen biologist. Somewhere near Admont there is probably a very happily retired taxidermist.
One of the highlights, however, is a mirrored presentation room where a screen tells the story of the monastery. It’s not just any old screen, though. It’s a screen you watch through a slightly curved glass, with mirrors above and to your left and right.
The effect is to make the screen you’re watching appear a part of an enormous globe, hanging in deep, black space. Look either side of you, and you see reflections of yourselves on your promontory curving around the globe.
The photo here on the left doesn’t really do the scene justice but best way of describing it is like the Galactic Senate scenes in the Star Wars prequel. I don’t remember much of the museum film itself (it was in German) but the set-up was phenomenally engaging and brilliantly disorientating.
Both then and on the Sunday morning we visited the monastery’s chapel. Though to call it a chapel is to rather understate what would pass for a pretty impressive cathedral in most cities. With two tall towers and a lush, ornate interior, there is all the pomp and grandeur of large churches coupled with a one or two bits and pieces were were specially shown, such as some tapestries behind the altar normally hidden by a curtain.
So with a church, school and museum, it all sounds rather scholarly. However, as I mentioned in my previous post they also produce fantastic wine and own various other enterprises such as a wooden flooring company.
The monastery’s influence is not only in Admont itself, though. Their reach historically reached throughout Austria. That’s a topic for my next post.