As you can see from the pictures, Stift Göttweig is a huge abbey about a one-hour drive from Vienna. It lies on top of a hill around 450 meters above sea level, which means that you have a stunning view from the terrace overlooking the surrounding area. The abbey holds a beautiful church, a stunning fresco (by Paul Troger) a monumental Imperial Staircase and of course imperial apartments and a library. Well worth a visit!
Stift Göttweig was founded in 1083 and has been a Benediktiner Stift since 1094. Stift is a term used the describe an institute including all its people, buildings and property, endowed with legacies and rights, dedicated to ecclesiastical purposes and given to a spiritual body. Or more simply put: endowed monastery. This Stift belongs to the Benedictine monks. The principles of the Benedictine order are: ora et labora et lege, which means: pray and work and read. This means that the monks are not locked up in their cloister praying all day, but that they have to get active within the community. Nowadays, amongst others, the monks teach philosophy in schools, house refugees within their own walls, have a youth house, work in hospitals and have a house for retreats.
The complex is made of of several parts: a church (of course), housing for the monks, imperial apartments, a crypt (with holy bones of course), a library, a chapel and the ‘castle’ (which is now used by the Donau-Universität Krems). Like this doesn’t sound big enough, there were actually plans for enlargements three times bigger! After a fire in 1718, Kaiser Karl VI had – quite literally – big plans for the abbey. Under his appointment, the abbey was updated to modern standards, which in this case means that everything that was still standing after the fire got a new baroque design. After Karl VI died, his daughter Maria Theresia came to power. She was not as big a fan of the abbey as her father, so the funds for the enormous rebuilt quickly dried up and only about a third of the plans were realized. But do not worry: they got far enough and there is still plenty to see.
If you do visit Stift Göttweig, be sure to take a tour! Our guide did an excellent job of putting more information than words in every sentence. So yes, it may have been a bit of an information overload, but really only because she had so much to tell us about. And to be honest, the sights speak for themselves so you could also simply take the tour in order not to get lost on the property…
Once you are in the church, do not forget to look both ways.
Before I wrote about Karl VI, who loved the abbey so much I think he wanted to make a small castle out of it. But as things go with Kaisers, they also love themselves. As you may know many fresco’s in imperial palaces may look like they are ancient Greek, but in fact they are allegories and in them is the specific ruler that gave the commission. In the case of Stift Göttweig there is exactly such a fresco, right about the huge imperial staircase, starring: an apotheosis of Karl VI in the guise of Apollo. (Apotheosis means the glorification of a subject to divine level.)
Since we are in Catholic Austria: where there is a church, there is wine. Stift Göttweig is in fact one of the oldest wine makers in the country. Since it is one of the oldest abbeys, and one needs wine during a catholic mass, this actually makes sense. Although the motto of the Benediktiner does is not ora et labora et bibe (pray, work and drink), these monks do know how to make wine. In fact: Stift Göttweig lies in the Kremstal, a very famous Austrian wine region that forms the entrance of the Wachau, an even more famous wine region.
The Stift holds 26 hectares of vineyards, that produce:
- 60% Grüner Veltliner
- 30% Riesling
- 4% Chardonnay
- 6% Pinot Noir
Since they do make the wine for mass, you can actually buy the Messwein in the shop. I bought a bottle of Grüner Veltliner Messwein and most certainly enjoyed it! It has good body and quite some spice to it. Fun fact: Messwein is always made according to the Kirchliche Reinheitgebot. This means the wine may only be produced with the permission of the bishop and must remain natural and unrepaired. In case you want to know more about the winery, just click here.
Besides grapes, the monks also grow the famous Wachauer Marillen – apricots. So when I saw a bottle of apricot wine I took it with me to taste. To be honest: I didn’t like it that much. It tasted more like prickly apricot juices than wine. It was too sweet for wine (but not tasteful enough to come anywhere close to an ice wine) and had no taste besides the apricots, which made it quite dull to drink. So in my humble opinion the Marillen are better used to make the famous Austrian Marillenkuchen.
Stift Göttweig lies about 85 km from Vienna.One hour by car and two hours by train. There is enough free parking space at the abbey.
This is a good and informative English video about the Stift Göttweig.
A visit takes about half a day, so I would recommend to make a day of it and also visit for example one of the many wineries in the region.