Stift Klosterneuburg: 900 Years of History
A note on
Origins and Growth
|The ideals of the Augustinian Canons go back to before Augustine himself.
From early on in the Church the clergy sought to live a common life along
the model of the Acts of the Apostles. They followed the model of the monks
of their day, celebrating the liturgy and serving the needs of the local
Bp. Eusebius of Vercelli (+371) can be credited as the first to plant the canonical life in the West. He introduced the common life into his cathedral chapter upon his return from the Council of Nicea. Other bishops followed suit, the greatest of whom was St. Augustine (354-430; on the left). The vita communis spread rapidly through his influence. This vita canonica became a parallel to the vita monastica. It was only later that Augustine’s Rule would spread throughout the canonical houses. In the beginning, most followed local statutes, and as the clergy grew, the communities began to found outside the large cities. These secular colleges of canons differed from each other in their customs and observances.
In 750 Bp. Chrodegang of Metz wrote a rule for his cathedral clergy which oriented them towards the liturgical usages of Rome and created a specific monastic discipline for them. The Achilles Heel of Chrodegang’s Rule was to continue to permit his canons to possess private property and even separate households. Nevertheless, a great many secular canonries adopted this stricter rule of life, especially in France. It was superceded in most canonries by the Rule of Aachen, a rule of life promulgated by the Council of Aachen which was called for the purpose of reforming the canonries by Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. Despite not being as strict as Chrodegang’s rule and still not doing away with private property, the Rule of Aachen heralded another period of growth for the canonries.
The great growth and development of the canonical institute truly began with the Gregorian Reform and the Lateran Synod of 1059. This synod dealt extensively with the canonical life and its reform. The choice was given to the individual communities as to whether they wanted to continue with private property or adopt the Rule of St. Augustine. From this point on one can distinguish between the secular and regular canons. The regular canons swiftly became an instrument of papal policy in the struggle to reform the Church. They opposed lay investiture’s influence in the monasteries and upheld clerical celibacy. Numerous bishops patronized this new development, both for spiritual reasons and also to curtail secular power in the Church. One example of this was the foundation of the Bavarian canonry of Rottenbuch with the privilege of papal overlordship (libertas romama). As a papal foundation, the secular lord had no control.
|The Salzburg Reform Movement|
German-speaking lands the great promoter of the Augustinian Canons was Bishop
Altmann of Passau (below). He
founded in 1067 the influential
Canons Regular of St. Nicola outside of
Passau to assist him in the reform of his clergy. Passau was the diocese
which encompassed much of what today is now Austria, so he was able to use
St. Nicola to reform the secular canonries in his diocese, one of which was
the canonry of St. Florian. Removed from his diocese by Emperor Henry IV in
the Wars of Investiture, he founded the influential house of Rottenbuch with
canons from Passau.
Rottenbuch became one of the centers of the Salzburg Reform Movement. While it never reached congregational status, the Movement was deeply influential in the Congregation of Marbach (a canonical reform congregation based at Marbach in Alsace), a house founded by Rottenbuch. Aside from Marbach, Rottenbuch was mother to other extremely influential canonries: Klosterrath, Berchtesgaden, Baumburg, Diessen and others. Rottenbuch’s influence was of a monastic orientation. The other orientation of the regular canons in the German-speaking territories was led by the cathedral chapter of Salzburg, and was more directed toward pastoral work.
The cathedral chapter of Salzburg was reformed by Archbishop Konrad I in 1121 with the help of the canonry of Klosterrath. This house sent four canons to Klosterrath and others came from different canonries to assist in the reform. Hartmann from St. Nicola in Passau was made dean by Konrad. Salzburg, now a regular cathedral chapter, was to become the center for the canonical reform in the southeast of the Empire.
nown as the Salzburg Union, this reform movement even reached beyond its borders into other dioceses; the canonry of Reichersberg in the diocese of Passau was reformed by Konrad, as were the cathedral priory of Gurk, the canonry of Chiemsee, et al. The canonical houses shared a common observance, though as mentioned, they never became a congregation. The cathedral priory of Salzburg was responsible for the foundation or reform of nearly all of the houses in what is today Austria. The houses were founded in swift order: Gurk, Ranshofen, Chiemsee, Klosterneuburg, Seckau and Suben.
One of the great personalities of the time was Gerhoch of Reichersberg (1093-1169). Both before and after being provost of Reichersberg, he struggled manfully and aggressively for the reform of the clergy. In Regensburg he assisted in the foundation of the canonry of St. Johannes which became mother house for several other houses. Gerhoch advocated the canonical life, the “apostolic life”, not merely for a few, but rather for all of the clergy. This ideal was influential in the canonical movement. As it became clear that it could not be carried out fully, the movement, which had always been perceived as the form of life for the entire clergy, began to concentrate more on the individual monasteries/canonries. Thus the Augustinian Canons became an Order akin to the others. They became more and more like monks, engendering a long and sometimes bitter dispute over the difference. The difference between monks and canons had, for all practical purposes, disappeared.
An important fact of canonical life of the high middle ages, at least within the realm of the Salzburg reform, is that the monasteries were very often double monasteries, with houses of canonesses arising in their shadow. Typically these communities of canonesses were under the authority of the provost of the male monastery. This lack of independence may well have been the reason for their eventual demise. They lived in strict enclosure, engaging in the solemn celebration of the liturgy and manual labor fitting to their state in life. The house of canonesses of Klosterneuburg lasted the longest, with the last of the canonesses dying only in 1568.
Klosterneuburg: the Beginnings
|It was in the midst
of this turbulent time, a time of struggle between ecclesiastical and
secular powers, the Church and the World, that Klosterneuburg was founded.
The Margrave Leopold
III of the Babenberg
dynasty made the foundation in 1114. He founded it as a secular canonry on the site of an older church (and
before that a Roman fortress) dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The new
church begun that same year was, as is the current one, dedicated to the
Birth of Mary. Leopold III founded a residence for himself in 1113 at "Neuburg",
and one year later the collegiate church.
The new church there was to be the largest in the land as a sign of his prestige and power. The foundation was for twelve canons and a provost, Otto I (1114-ca. 1126; left). The second provost was Leopold’s own son, Otto. Leopold gave him the office and sent him to Paris to study, in all probability so as to later make him bishop and turn Klosterneuburg into a cathedral church and a diocese. This would explain his large endowments to the collegiate church as well as the size of the church.
A change in plans was necessitated by the surprising turn of events in Paris where the young Otto was studying. In 1132 Otto entered the Cistercian abbey of Morimond together with 15 members of his retinue. The bishops of Passau and Salzburg who had viewed Leopold’s plans with deep mistrust, took the opportunity, together with other bishops and in all likelihood the new Cistercian, Otto, to pressure Leopold III to replace the secular canons with Augustinian Canons.
The Margrave bowed to the pressure, pensioned off the
secular canons and their provost, Opold, and decreed that "Neuburg" should
become a house of Augustinian Canons, thereby renouncing his own right to
act as overlord of the monastery. In the hagiographical "Chronicon Pii
Marchionis" it states that Leopold dismissed the secular canons because they
had been careless and negligent in their performance of the Divine Office, a
typical medieval formula used to justify or explain a change of rule or a
He moved into "Neuburg" with a picked team of canons from different
communities, probably from St. Nicola, Chiemsee, Rottenbuch and Salzburg.
But Klosterneuburg regarded St. Nicola in Passau as actual "motherhouse".
Among this picked team were two brothers of Gerhoch of Reichersberg,
Marquard and Rudiger (on the right), both educated in theology in Paris, and both who
became provosts of Klosterneuburg.
|Medieval Growth and Development|
During the Middle Ages Stift Klosterneuburg
underwent significant development. The canons managed to maintain a good
religious discipline, though there were times of laxity. A statute dating
from 1289 forbade games of dice. In 1301 a visitation by an ecclesiastical
commission sent by the bishop of Passau deposed Provost Hadmar and reduced
the authority of both provost and chapter in economic questions. The
following provost, Berthold, renewed the community both economically and
spiritually, thereby succeeding in having the bishop of Passau remove the
restrictions of 1301. Berthold’s successor, Stephen of Sierndorf (1317-1335; right), is known for his tremendous work in the reconstruction of the Stift after a fire in the town in September of 1330 caught the monastery
buildings, destroying a good portion. He was called at the time the "second
founder" of the Stift.
The spiritual and economic prosperity of the monastery continued through the 14th century. On 18 January of 1359 Pope Innocent VI granted to Provost Ortolf of Wolkersdorf and all his successors the right to use pontificalia. This right had been granted to individual provosts before, but was at the time a rare privilege. In 1382 they were granted the right to pontifical sandals as well. The cult of St. Leopold also continued to grow, and Duke Rudolf IV petitioned Rome in 1358 for his canonization. The investigation would continue on and off until it’s successful completion in January of 1485.
The reforms of the religious Orders of the 15th century did not leave Klosterneuburg untouched. Austria was swept with the same zeal for reform. Stift Melk provided the impetus for the Benedictine reform in Austria, while it was Stift Raudnitz in Bohemia which provided norms of reform for the Augustinian Canons. As always seems the case, the renewal of claustral discipline brought with it a blossoming of religious and cultural life in Klosterneuburg. Canons Johannes of Perchtoldsdorf and Kolomann Knapp were instrumental in significant development and growth of the canonry’s library in this period. Provost Georg Muestinger promoted numerous cultural and intellectual activities, including the drawing of what was in 1423 the best map of Europe. Indeed the Stift was a leading center of astronomical and geographical research in the 15th Century producing amongst the best maps and globes of the time. Humanism found a remarkably early foothold in the canonry in 1452.
The canonization celebrations of St. Leopold were tremendous events in Klosterneuburg, culminating in 1506 with the solemn translation and veneration of the saint’s relics (papal deliberations on the left). But soon the celebrations were to be overshadowed by the dark specter of the Protestant Revolt. The provost elected in 1509, Georg Hausmanstetter, a very capable man from Styria, bore the brunt of its initial onslaught. His competence was well-known, and Emperor Maximilian I even asked him to be part of the Lower Austrian government. Unfortunately this meant he was frequently absent from the canonry, and the economic state of the house, damaged already by the high costs of Leopold’s canonization ceremonies, worsened.
In 1513 things came to a head and the canons revolted openly against Hausmanstetter. He even felt it necessary at the time to call out the servants of the monastery lodged in Langenzersdorf to act as guards of the Stift. One significant motive of the rebellion was the dislike of the government with which Georg Hausmanstetter was associated. In the end the provost was forced to flee, and the government ordered the recapture of the monastery by force on Pentecost of 1513. Nevertheless, it seems that the provost was able to return to the Stift without violence. Three canons were arrested as ringleaders and taken away, and provost and chapter made peace, strengthened in their resolve by the threat of further imperial intervention by Maximilian I.
Protestant and Catholic Reformation;
|Martin Luther’s heretical teachings penetrated Austria early, with its
earliest proponents being the nobility. Already in 1528 Lutheranism was so
widespread that Emperor Ferdinand I had to call for a visitation of all the
monasteries in the realm. It brought astounding findings to light: among the
many monasteries of Lower Austria, only Klosterneuburg was fully Catholic in
belief and allegiance. This was certainly due to the personality of Provost Georg, who stood fast with the imperial family and in stark opposition and
contrast to the majority Protestant nobility. As long as Hausmanstetter (above)
lived, the canonry remained Catholic.
War with the Turk overshadowed the religious divisions of the day. After the Hungarian defeat at Mohacs in 1526, the danger became acute. The Protestant nobility gave mostly passive resistance to the Turks, as they used the occasion to wrangle religious concessions from the emperor. The war also required the emperor to command all religious houses to turn over the contents of their treasuries to be used for the defense of the land. Almost all medieval goldwork in Klosterneuburg was melted down at that time, among it was the reliquary of St. Leopold.
In 1529 the Turks were at Klosterneuburg and the gates of Vienna. Provost Georg and the community fled to Passau, leaving two men behind to organize a defense. The lower city of Klosterneuburg was burned, but the enemy was unable to penetrate the defenses of the upper city. Eventually they departed Klosterneuburg and Vienna. The Stift was required to give still more money and goods for the struggle, despite its own losses.
On 3 December, 1541 Provost Georg Hausmanstetter went to his well-deserved rest. It didn’t take long for Lutheran teaching to enter the walls of the Stift once this true son of the Church was dead. On the 15th of February, 1548, Canon Johannes Weiss preached the new teaching, angering the brethren. He preached against the religious habit, fasting and the veneration of relics. In 1554 Provost Christoph Starl (1551-1558) was called to account for suspicious statements in his preaching by Ferdinand I. Above all he reproached Starl for being so patient with Protestant thinking.
Upon Starl’s death Peter Hubner (1558-1563) was elected provost, and he professed Lutheranism openly, supporting the new teaching in the city. He allowed the young clerics and novices of the canonry to be formed in the Protestant spirit, and maintained a concubine in the canonry’s hospice. When he married his concubine Anna in the Stift’s church (presided over by the dean), he was removed from office by an imperial commission in 1562. He was deposed formally and excommunicated in the following year by ecclesiastical sentence.
Hubner’s successor brought little improvement, and the economic situation of the canonry reached a catastrophic low point. The city of Klosterneuburg was almost completely Protestant and the only priests offering Mass were the Franciscans, who held most of the solemn high Masses in the Stift’s church. The canons carried out more or less Protestant rites. The incorporated parish of St. Martin (belonging to the canonry) was completely Lutheran and had a married minister.
In 1577 Provost Leopold Hintermayr died suddenly, and with his death the patience of the imperial house was exhausted. The emperor denied the chapter its right to freely elect Hintermayr’s successor and instead imposed upon the resistant and rebellious community his own candidate, the dean of the Vienna cathedral chapter, Kaspar Christiani (right), a secular priest from northern Germany. His severity and strict Catholicism, it was hoped, would bring the community back to the true Faith. The emperor was not disappointed. This imposition on the community by the emperor was upheld by the pope, who summarily dispensed Christiani from the requirement of making a novitiate.
After he took solemn vows, he took up the struggle by removing from the monastery the Lutheran brethren, and worked hard to bring the few remaining back to strict Catholicism. They were not many, as there were counted only 7 canons in the Stift in 1563. He also sacked the Lutheran servants of the Stift. Above all he worked to convince fit and suitable men to enter the canonry. Soon the canonry could once again be called Catholic, but the city mounted a more fierce defense of its Lutheranism. Exhausted by both his own irascible temperament and by the many difficulties he had encountered, Provost Kaspar Christiani died after only 6 years in office at the age of 43.
The new provost, Balthasar Polzmann (1584-1596; left), inherited a calmer situation, as the heyday of Protestantism in Austria had already passed, in part because of the lack of unity among the ranks of the Protestants. The community was completely Catholic and so numerous that from among its canons could be chosen several prelates for other monasteries. The city was converting slowly back to the Faith. The pastor of the Stift’s parish, Dr. Andreas Weissenstein, was particularly zealous in converting Protestants. He himself had once been Protestant. His excellent preaching and solemn liturgies brought back the majority of the local population into the Fold. By the beginning of the 17th century Klosterneuburg was once again a Catholic city, there was a renewal of the cult of St. Leopold.
The Catholic Reformation brought with it grave consequences, however. In 1568 the emperor created the "Monastery Council" as a supervisory department for the monasteries of Austria. Initially this had a beneficial result, as the council did away with abuses and enacted reforms, but soon enough it became a means for the emperor to control Church institutions. It quickly became an impediment to the Church’s development. The emperor used his new-found power to nullify the election of a provost of Klosterneuburg in 1596 and again in 1614. The first was the case of the election of Andreas Weissenstein, whose election the emperor refused to ratify because he held to the independence of the Church from the state.
|New Beginnings and Old Wars: 17th and 18th Centuries|
The 17th century saw dramatic developments in Klosterneuburg. The continuing
interference in the inner life of the Stift brought about unrest in the
community and damaged morale. Nevertheless the relationship between the
ruling House of
Habsburg and the canonry continued to become closer. In 1616
Maximilian III gave Provost Andreas Mosmiler (left) the Stift custody of the Archducal Crown of Austria.
Pope Paul V confirmed this custody with a bull in which he specified that
the crown could only be removed from the canonry for up to 30 days, and then
only for coronation ceremonies. Anything else brought with it the pain of
excommunication. Clearly the emperor wanted to give the crown the mystique
surrounding St. Leopold. The "Crown of St. Leopold" was to take its place
beside the Crown of St. Stephen of Hungary and that of St. Wenceslaus of
Bohemia, even though it was of a much later provenance.
Provost Ernest Perger (1707-1748;
below) had deep misgivings about the building
projects which were foisted upon him against his will and despite his
objections. Provost Ernest changed the cassock color from the traditional
white to black in 1714. Only novices retained the white cassock until 1772
when that too was changed to black. The last lay brother died in 1739. Since
that time there have only been priests which make up the Klosterneuburg
Josephinism and Religious Destruction
The regime of Emperor Joseph II (1765-90) brought cataclysmic
change for the Church
and all ecclesiastical institutions in Austria. Joseph II was completely
devoted to the principles of the Enlightenment in every area of life. His
reign was one of constant changes and "reforms" which left very little
unchanged in the life of his people. For Joseph, everything had to be able
to prove its usefulness. This became so associated with him that this sort
of Enlightenment thinking is simply known as "Josephinism".
|The Last Years of an Empire: Wealth, Laxity and Reform in the 19th Century|
|The 19th century brought with it a succession of problems which seemed to
strike one after another. The Napoleonic Wars brought French troops to
Klosterneuburg twice, where they demanded extravagant sums from both the
populace and the canonry. While the monastery suffered some damages, worst
were the abbey’s outlying parishes which were regularly plundered by the
invaders. The Monarchy (the annual imperial pilgrimage from 1835 is depicted on the right), completely impoverished by the wars, also exacted
large sums from Austria’s monasteries, even to requiring that gold and
silver plate be melted down. Several treasures were lost that way. There
were floods of the Danube, bad harvests and fires which devastated the
economic situation of the canonry.
To top it all off, an episcopal visitation in 1821 found serious irregularities in the religious life of the canons. In 1830 Jakob Ruttenstock was elected provost, and he began to reform the economic situation of the monastery. He had such success that in a few years he was able to undertake the completion of the baroque wing, left so long as an uncompleted quadrangle and separate from the rest of the old monastery. From 1834-1842 he completed the quadrangle and connected the "old" to the "new" Stift. New rooms were created for the abbey’s library (above) in this section, as were suites for the canons and a new refectory (left). The twelve-room Prelature had long been located in this wing, as had the "Summer Prelature".
A result of the 1855 Concordat with the Holy See was a visitation of all monasteries and religious Orders in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. This brought certain reforms to the Stift, but it was unable to bring about the desired effect of uniting the Austrian Augustinian canonries into a single congregation. The bishops were as yet unwilling to relinquish their visitation rights. This would have to wait until the following century to be realized. It was another visitation carried out from 1904-1906 due to "interior problems" which finally forged the congregational bonds between the six different, remaining canonries of Austria, thereby finally achieving the coveted right of exemption from episcopal visitation.
|Reorganization and Confederation: the 20th Century|
|The provost elected in 1907, Friedrich Piffl, saw the dramatic changes which
occurred in Austria after World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg
Monarchy, but he did not see it as provost of Klosterneuburg, but rather
from the even more uncomfortable throne of the archiepiscopal see of Vienna,
to which he was named in 1913. As provost, he undertook numerous cultural
and intellectual projects in the canonry. He commissioned the famous and
unique set of vestments done in the Art Deco (Jugendstil) style (sample on
the right). It was unfortunate for
the Stift that Piffl (below) was
named Archbishop of Vienna, as his departure
created a vacuum not easily filled, especially considering the turbulent
times which would follow the fall of the Monarchy. His successor was less
gifted an administrator. Nevertheless, at the outbreak of the Great War, Klosterneuburg’s numbers had reached an all-time high in its long history:
95 canons. With the tremendous inflation which followed the war, many
projects and activities of the canonry had to cease, and some of its ancient
treasures had to be sold, including medieval manuscripts.
The intellectual tradition of the Stift was carried on by such men as Pius Parsch (right), one of the foremost pioneers of the new, popular liturgical movement. Of course it was his pioneering which got him and the canonry as a whole into difficulties with the Holy See which, upon learning that Parsch had been experimenting with the vernacular at his Masses at St. Gertrude's (left), placed Klosterneuburg under interdict. The situation was further complicated by the death of the provost, Alipius Linda in 1953. The interdict meant, among other things, that no election could be held until it was lifted. This was finally achieved a year later.
The advent of National Socialism in Austria was devastating for Klosterneuburg. The Nazis suppressed the canonry in 1941 and confiscated the buildings and properties. This process had already begun with the Anschluss. Only a few canons were permitted to remain in the house and continue ministering to the faithful of the city. Many went out into the Stift’s parishes, while some were drafted into the army. One member of the community, Roman Scholz (on the right), was hanged in 1944 for being involved in the resistance movement. Moreover the pastor of Tattendorf, one of the most remote of the Stift's parishes south of Vienna, was murdered by the Russians in 1945. Alois Kremar was killed because he stood up against the Russian soldiers desired to prey on Austrian women and girls, a terrifying and frequent enough occurrence after the war.
It was Provost Alipius Linda, elected in 1937, who guided the community
wisely through both the Nazi period as well as the subsequent Communist
occupation. After his death followed the interregnum of the interdict,
which was largely resolved through the ministrations of Canon Gebhard
Koberger, who was elected Linda’s successor in 1954.