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Einsiedeln, French Notre-Dame-des-Ermites, town, Schwyz canton, northeast-central Switzerland. It is located on the right bank of Alp Stream, northeast of Schwyz city. It developed around the Benedictine abbey, founded in 934. The abbey became a principality of the Holy Roman Empire in 1274 and belonged to Schwyz after 1386. Its wooden statue, the “ Black Virgin” (which owes its name to the discoloration caused by the candles burned before it through the centuries), became a sacred object of European pilgrims from the 14th century. Huldrych Zwingli, the religious reformer, was the parish priest there from 1516 to 1518, and the Renaissance physician Paracelsus was born near the town. In addition to being the largest and most famous Swiss pilgrimage resort, Einsiedeln hosts a popularly attended Carnival parade each year. The town also is a winter sports centre and has printing, rubber, and furniture industries. The population is largely German-speaking and Roman Catholic. Pop. (2012 est.) 14,632.
Einsiedeln Monastery has been cultivating a tradition of hospitality for over 1000 years. Switzerland's most important place of pilgrimage is a magnet for pilgrims on the Way of St. James, culture devotees and tourists alike.
The magnificent abbey, complete with Chapel of Our Lady and Black Madonna, is fascinating. The monks celebrate Vespers at 4.30 p.m., closing with the polyphonic antiphon, Salve Regina. Einsiedeln Monastery is currently home to some 50 monks. The Baroque complex in its present form was built from 1703 onwards after plans by Caspar Moosbrugger.
Einsiedeln Abbey. 1000 Years of Pilgrimage
With an extensive exhibition, the National Museum Zurich is presenting the history of Einsiedeln Abbey and its pilgrimage, which spans more than 1000 years. The abbey is the biggest lender to the show, supplying over 300 objects from the 9th to the 20th century. Many of the exhibits are leaving the abbey walls for the first time.
Einsiedeln Abbey is one of the most significant international pilgrimage destinations. From Saint Meinrad’s modest hermitage around 860 to today’s Baroque monastery church, the abbey has experienced numerous heydays, but also crises. During its history spanning more than 1000 years, millions of believers have visited this pilgrimage site. Popes, emperors, kings and ordinary citizens have lavished privileges, gifts and donations on the abbey. This exhibition produced in close collaboration with Einsiedeln Abbey in the extension of the National Museum tells of the abbey’s religious and political history, its Marian devotion and its enduring importance as a pilgrimage site.
The early beginnings of Einsiedeln as an abbey and pilgrimage destination lie in the 9th century and go back to Saint Meinrad. Legend has it that he was murdered by two robbers in 861. On the site of his ministry, a Benedictine monastery was erected in 934. Even in its early days it was able to count on a significant network. Thanks to funding from Emperor Otto I, it developed into a supra-regional religious centre. The chapel – erected in honour of Saint Meinrad on the site of his former cell – became a place of pilgrimage from the High Middle Ages onwards. This was mainly thanks to the legend of the Angels’ Blessing proclaimed from the 12th century onwards. According to this legend, Christ personally blessed the chapel. The legend was born based on a document attributed to Pope Leo VIII, though this had been forged. From the 13th century onwards, the statue of the Mother of God in the chapel became the object of reverence.
The main draw for pilgrims is the ‘Image of Grace’: a statue of Mary wearing a cloak and holding baby Jesus – the Black Madonna. Not only did devout citizens ask the Einsiedeln Madonna for protection, help and healing the nobility from surrounding countries also felt a connection with the place. The gifts, donations and votive offerings are accordingly numerous. From relatively simple votive tablets to ostentatious gold chalices, the offerings have been kept to this day in memory of former pilgrims. The treasures include a crown belonging to Archduke Maximilian III and a flowery embroidered carpet owned by Emperor Leopold I, both from the 17th century. There are also numerous garments for Mary among the regular donations. The exhibition presents a unique overview of 17 gowns, from the oldest preserved gown – the Angels’ Blessing gown of 1685 – to contemporary donations from Korea and India.
The abbey has survived numerous fires and, thanks to the aura of this place of pilgrimage, several crises as well. The consequences of the French Revolution and the Helvetic Republic led to the most severe disruptions in the abbey’s history. In 1798, French troops plundered the sacred place. Valuables were stolen, pictures and furnishings destroyed, books pulped and horses given away. The Chapel of Grace was also dismantled stone by stone to prevent pilgrimages. The monks managed to move its holiest object, the Image of Grace, to a safe place in time. In 1803, after the French withdrew, the Image of Grace returned to Einsiedeln – bringing the pilgrims back. When a new wave of piety spread across Europe in the 19th century, this also sparked a new heyday for Einsiedeln. The expansion of the rail network heralded the dawn of mass pilgrimages: some 30,000 pilgrims a year made their way to Einsiedeln around 1830. These days, half a million people visit the village and abbey every year.
The scenography of the exhibition, enriched with film documentaries, music and audio terminals, comes from Holzer Kobler Architekturen in Zurich.
A Benedictine monastery in the Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland, dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits, that title being derived from the circumstances of its foundation, from which the name Einsiedeln is also said to have originated. St. Meinrad, of the family of the Counts of Hohenzollern, was educated at the abbey school of Reichenau, an island in Lake Constance, under his kinsmen Abbots Hatto and Erlebald, where he became a monk and was ordained. After some years at Reichenau, and the dependent priory of Bollingen, on Lake Zurich, he embraced an eremitical life and established his hermitage on the slopes of Mt. Etzel, taking with him a wonder-working statue of Our Lady which he had been given by the Abbess Hildegarde of Zurich. He died in 861 at the hands of robbers who coveted the treasures offered at the shrine by devout pilgrims, but during the next eighty years the place was never without one or more hermits emulating St. Meinrad's example. One of them, named Eberhard, previously Provost of Strasburg, erected a monastery and church there, of which he became first abbot. The church was miraculously consecrated, so the legend runs, in 948, by Christ Himself assisted by the Four Evangelists, St. Peter, and St. Gregory the Great. This event was investigated and confirmed by Pope Leo VIII and subsequently ratified by many of his successors, the last ratification being by Pius VI in 1793, who confirmed the acts of all his predecessors. In 965 Gregory, the third Abbot of Einsiedeln, was made a prince of the empire by Otto I, and his successors continued to enjoy the same dignity up to the cessation of the empire in the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1274 the abbey, with its dependencies, was created an independent principality by Rudolf of Hapsburg, over which the abbot exercised temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction. It continued independent until the French Revolution. The abbey is now what is termed nullius dioecesis, the abbot having quasi-episcopal authority over ten parishes served by the monks and comprising nearly twenty thousand souls. For the learning and piety of its monks Einsiedeln has been famous for a thousand years, and many saints and scholars have lived within its walls. The study of letters, printing, and music have greatly flourished there, and the abbey has contributed largely to the glory of the Benedictine Order. It is true that discipline declined somewhat in the fifteenth century and the rule became relaxed, but Ludovicus II, a monk of St. Gall who was Abbot of Einsiedeln 1526-44, succeeded in restoring the stricter observance. In the sixteenth century the religious disturbances caused by the spread of the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland were a source of trouble for some time. Zwingli himself was at Einsiedeln for a while, and used the opportunity for protesting against the famous pilgrimages, but the storm passed over and the abbey was left in peace. Abbot Augustine I (1600-29) was the leader of the movement which resulted in the erection of the Swiss Congregation of the Order of St. Benedict in 1602, and he also did much for the establishment of unrelaxed observance in the abbey and for the promotion of a high standard of scholarship and learning amongst his monks.
The pilgrimages, just mentioned, which have never ceased since the days of St. Meinrad, have tended to make Einsiedeln the rival even of Rome, Loreto, and Compostela, and constitute one of the features for which the abbey is chiefly celebrated. The pilgrims number from 150,000 to 200,000 annually, from all parts of Catholic Europe. The miraculous statue of Our Lady, originally set up by St. Meinrad, and later enthroned in the little chapel erected by Eberhard, is the object of their devotion. This chapel stands within the great abbey church, in much the same way as the Holy House at Loreto, encased in marbles and precious woodwork, elaborately decorated, though it has been so often restored, rebuilt, and adorned with the offerings of pilgrims, that it may be doubted whether much of the original sanctuary still remains. The fourteenth of September and the thirteenth of October are the chief pilgrimage days, the former being the anniversary of the miraculous consecration of Eberhard's basilica, and the latter that of the translation of St. Meinrad's relics from Reichenau to Einsiedeln in 1039. The millenary of St. Meinrad was kept there with great splendour in 1861. The great church has been many times rebuilt, the last time by Abbot Maurus between the years 1704 and 1719, and one of its chief treasures now is a magnificent corona presented by Napoleon III when he made a pilgrimage there in 1865. The library, which dates from 946, contains nearly fifty thousand volumes and many priceless manuscripts The work of the monks is divided chiefly between prayer, the confessional, and study. At pilgrimage times the number of confessions heard is very large. The community numbers about one hundred priests and forty lay brothers, and attached to the abbey are a seminary and a college for about two hundred and sixty boys, both of which are taught by the monks, who also direct six convents of nuns. In 1854 a colony was sent to America from Einsiedeln to work amongst the native Indian tribes. From St. Meinrad's Abbey, Indiana, which was the first settlement, daughter-houses were founded, and these in 1881 were formed into the Swiss-American Congregation, which comprised (in 1906) seven monasteries and nearly four hundred religious. Dom Thomas Bossart, the fifty-third Abbot of Einsiedeln and former dean of the monastery, was elected in 1905.
Gallia Christiana (Paris, 1781), V Album Benedictinum (St. Vincent's, Pennsylvania, 1880) MIGNE, Dict. des Abbayes (Paris, 1856) RÉGNIER, Chronique d'Einsiedeln (Paris, 1837) Précis Historique de l'Abbaye et du Pélerinage de Notre-Dame-des-Ermites (Einsiedeln, 1870) MOREL, Die Regesten der Benediktiner-Abtei Einsieldeln (Chur, 1848) BRUNNER, Ein Benediktinerbuch (Würzburg, 1880) RINGHOLZ, Geschichte des fürstlichen Benediktinerstiftes L. F. von Einsiedeln (Einsiedeln, 1904), the most important work on the history and antiquities of the abbey.
The Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, Switzerland
In the German language the word einsiedler means hermit, and Switzerland's greatest pilgrimage shrine, the abbey of Einsiedeln, derives its name from being the 'place of the hermits'. While legends indicate the site was sacred in pre-Christian times, its historical fame began in the early 9th century. In 835, Meinrad, a young nobleman who had been a monk in the monastery of Reichenau, left the monastery to live a hermit's life in the deep woods of northeast Switzerland. For 26 years he lived alone in the woods with two crows as his only companions. In 861, two bandits came upon Meinrad in his hermitage and murdered him. Legends tell that Meinrad's two crows followed the bandits, hovering and shrieking in a strange manner, until the bandits were captured in Zurich, 30 miles away.
When Meinrad had first come to the forest he had brought along one of the mysterious Black Madonna statues, considered by many scholars to be Christianized pagan Dark Goddesses. After Meinrad's death a small Benedictine cloister was built at the site of his hermitage and this cloister, housing the Black Madonna, soon became a pilgrimage site of great importance. The enormous abbey standing today rose over a period of many centuries and only legends are left regarding the sites sacred use in prehistoric times. Inside the church the primary object of pilgrimage visitation is the Chapel of Grace which houses a mid-15th century Black Madonna icon (the earlier icon having been destroyed in a fire). The Chapel of Grace, standing directly upon the site of Meinrad's original hermitage, is believed to have been consecrated by Christ himself when he miraculously appeared on September 14, 948.
The Black Madonna images in European pilgrimage shrines are a matter of some controversy. Throughout Western Europe there are over 200 examples of these black images and, while anathema to the orthodox church, they are widely venerated as having esoteric, magical and wonder-working powers.
Writing in The Cult of the Black Virgin, Ean Begg states that
"The still popular cult of wonder-working images is not only reactionary and non-scriptural, it also evokes memories of awkward subjects best left in obscurity like the pre-Christian origins of much in Christianity, the history of the Templars, Catharism, and other heresies, and secrets concerning the Merovinginian dynasty. So, blackness in statues of the Virgin tends to be ignored and, where admitted, is attributed to the effects of candle smoke, burial, immersion or fashion's passing whim. The contention, then, of the Catholic Church is that most such statues were not originally intended to be black, and only became so by accident later." . "If the presumed polychrome faces and hands of the Virgin and Child have been blackened by the elements however, why has their polychrome clothing not been similarly discolored? Secondly, why has a similar process not occurred in the case of other venerated images (where smoky candles were also burned nearby)?"
Mary Lee Nolan, a leading scholar of European pilgrimage has noted that more than 10% of the European shrines where Black Virgins are venerated are known to have been centers of worship in pre-Christian times. Echoing this fact, other scholars see in Black Virgin veneration a continuation of pre-Christian worship of such pagan goddesses as Isis, Diana of Ephesus, Artemis, Cybele, and the Celtic deity Hecate (it is interesting to note in this regard that the great Egyptian goddess, Isis, is often shown as a nursing mother with the infant Horus god at her breast in this image lies the origins of the Madonna and Child image). Lending still more support to the pre-Christian origin of the Black Madonnas, Begg writes that
"Again and again in the stories of the Black Virgin, a statue is found in a forest or a bush, or discovered when ploughing animals refuse to pass a certain spot. The statue is taken to the parish church, only to return miraculously by night to her own place, where a chapel is then built in her honor. Almost invariably her cult is associated with natural phenomena, especially healing waters or striking geographical features. The Romans had taken over and adapted many of the sacred sites of the Celtic world, which the Christians were later, in their turn, to sanctify, but the spirit of the place remains Celtic, and still whispers something of its origins through the cult associated with it."
It is evident from a serious study of these matters that the patriarchal Roman church in its effort to exterminate the ancient and immensely popular goddess cults had only succeeded in driving them underground. In contemporary Europe the veneration of the feminine principle and her sacred sites is once again gaining power. As Begg interprets it,
"The return of the Black Virgin to the forefront of collective consciousness has coincided with the profound psychological need to reconcile sexuality and religion."
Martin Gray is a cultural anthropologist, writer and photographer specializing in the study and documentation of pilgrimage places around the world. During a 38 year period he has visited more than 1500 sacred sites in 165 countries. The World Pilgrimage Guide web site is the most comprehensive source of information on this subject.
The Black Madonna statue of Guadalupe, Spain
Abbey library in Einsiedeln Monastery – over 1000 years of history
The Abbey Library is characteristic of such institutions and is closely identified with the history of Einsiedeln Monastery. The "Great Library" can be visited as part of a guided tour of the monastery. Housed in an early Rococo-style room, one of the monastery's prized attractions, the library is a cultural asset well worth viewing.
In addition to holy scripture, it consists of a vast stockpile of spiritual and theological knowledge and historical, philosophical, legal, natural scientific and medical resources. The library contains manuscripts and books dating from the 10th century, when the monastery was founded. The current stock comprises some 1,200 manuscripts, 1,100 incunabula and early imprints, and 230,000 printed volumes dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
EINSIEDELN, ABBEY OF
Benedictine abbey nullius dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits near Schwyz, Diocese of Chur, central Switzerland. St. meinrad came from reichenau c. 835 to live as a hermit in the forest there and was slain by robbers (861). Eberhart (934 – 958) was the first abbot of a community under the Benedictine Rule. The Dukes of Swabia and the Ottos favored the abbey Otto I granted it immunity and made the abbot a prince of the Empire. Under Gregory (964 – 996) there was a famous school with St. wolfgang of regensburg. The abbey was destroyed by fire five times (1029 – 1577) and after a long struggle it lost half its territory to Schwyz (1350), which in 1424 replaced the Hapsburgs as advocati of Einsiedeln. The bishops of Constance contested exemptions of the abbey because of its famous pilgrimage until a compromise was reached (1452 – 1782). Restriction of novices to the nobility limited the monks to fewer than five after 1350, divine services and the care of pilgrims being entrusted to secular chaplains. Zwingli became a parish priest in Einsiedeln (1516 – 18). Abbot Ludwig Blarer (1526 – 44) introduced reform from sankt gallen, Joachim Eichorn (1544 – 69) restored the cloister, and Augustine Hofmann (1600 – 29) helped found the Swiss Benedictine congregation. Printing was introduced (1664), and Abbot Augustine Reding (1670 – 92) was a noted theologian. French troops plundered the abbey and destroyed the chapel (1798), but the monks returned (1801). Abbot Heinrich Schmid (1846 – 74) founded st. meinrad, New Subiaco, and Richardton in the U.S. In 1948 the Priory of Los Toldos was founded in Argentina. Pius X made Einsiedeln an abbey nullius (1907). The abbot ranks with bishops of the Swiss Bishops Conference.
The baroque convent was built (1704 – 18) after plans by Caspar Moosbrugger the church (1719 – 26) was consecrated in 1735 and restored in 1840, 1911, and 1943. The abbey cares for 12 parishes, a theological school for monks, and colleges at Einsiedeln (320 pupils), Ascona in Ticino (200 pupils), and Pf ä ffikon (180 agricultural students) the four Benedictine nuns' monasteries under Einsiedeln include Fahr. Einsiedeln settled the Abbeys of petershausen (983), muri (1027), Schaffhausen (1050), and hirsau (1065). According to 14th-century
legend, the chapel of St. Meinrad, around which the church was built, was consecrated in 948 by Christ Himself. pilgrimages to Einsiedeln have been popular from the 13th century the Black Madonna dates from c. 1400.
Bibliography: r. henggeler, Professbuch der f ü rstlichen Benediktinerabtei Unserer Lieben Frau zu Einsiedeln (Monasticon-Benedictinum Helvetiae 3 Einsiedeln 1934) Dictionnaire historique et biographique de la Suisse, v.2 (Neuch â tel 1924) 762 – 765, illus. Einsiedeln: Our Lady of Hermits (4th ed. Munich 1962), illus. guide. o. ringholz, Geschichte der f ü rstlichen Benediktinerstiftes U. L. F. von Einsiedeln, v.1 (to 1526) (New York 1904), no more pub. l. birchler, Kunstdenkm ä ler der Schweiz, v.1 (Basel 1927) 17 – 238, with illus. r. tschudi, Das Kloster Einsiedeln unter den Aebten Ludwig II. Blarer und Joachim Eichhorn 1526 – 69 (Diss. Fribourg 1946) Our Lady of Einsiedeln in Switzerland (Shrines of the World Saint Paul, Minn. 1958) Lexikon f ü r Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957 – 65) 3:766 – 767. l. h. cottineau, R é pertoire topobibliographique des abbayes et prieur é s, 2 v. (M â con 1935 – 39) 1:1034 – 39. o. l. kapsner, A Benedictine Bibliography: An Author-Subject Union List, 2 v. (2d ed. Collegeville, Minn.1962) 2:205 – 209. Annuario Pontificio (1965) 729.
Einsiedeln monastery moves with the times
A huge building with a baroque façade, the imposing Einsiedeln monastery is one of Switzerland's oldest and most important places of pilgrimage.
This content was published on August 8, 2007 - 10:22 August 8, 2007 - 10:22 Isobel Leybold-Johnson
Isobel trained as a journalist in Great Britain and speaks all three Swiss national languages. She reports on education for swissinfo.ch.
The cloisters are still very active. More than 80 Benedictine monks live there, organising pilgrimages, teaching in the school and even playing the starring role in the local play.
The square in front of the more than 1,000-year-old monastery is currently doubling as a stage, where the residents of Einsiedeln have been performing their "world theatre" play.
This tells of the end of the world mostly brought about by human neglect of the environment.
It is perhaps a testament to how strongly linked the village is to its monastery that the leading role of "the world" is played by a monk.
"Einsiedeln is the biggest baroque and Benedictine monastery in Switzerland," Urs Raschle, head of Einsiedeln Tourism, told swissinfo.
"It is one of the most important monasteries, and the abbot's opinion has a lot of weight. He is also a bishop and was nominated to this position by the Pope," he added.
Raschle estimates that 800,000 to one million pilgrims come to the site every year. Many stop over while following the St James' Way down to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
People come to pray in the church, whose sumptuous interior is decorated in an extraordinary mix of pastel pinks, greens and gold, as well as frescoes.
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For many, the focus of their visit is the Black Madonna. The statue, which dates from the 15th century, originally turned black through dust and soot from candles, oil and incense.
An attempt to clean her so upset the locals that her face and hands were painted black in 1803.
Her appeal extends to other religions as well, such as the Hindu Tamil community.
"Tamils come from Switzerland and its surroundings to pray, and especially after the [2004 Indian Ocean] tsunami, this was a really important place for them," said Raschle.
The story of Einsiedeln began in 835, when St Meinrad, a Benedictine monk from Lake Constance, came to live as a hermit at the site. Other monks followed and after St Meinrad's murder, the first church was built on the site in 934.
According to legend, two ravens followed the murderers until they were apprehended. The birds are remembered in the monastery's coat of arms.
The abbey became known as a place of pilgrimage. During the Middle Ages, its influence extended as far as southern Germany and upper Italy.
It entered its golden age in the baroque era, when the buildings were greatly extended and rebuilt in their present style.
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A visit to the monastery proves that it is still very active. A monk sets up the projector for the introductory film about the site. We hear how the abbot, Martin Werlen, is rumoured to use a scooter to negotiate the 150-metre corridors.
But Einsiedeln is facing a severe drop in numbers, although there are currently three junior monks.
"When I entered the cloister a good 50 years ago there were 204 monks. Today we are around 80, so our individual duties have become smaller," Father Othmar, who lives at the monastery, told swissinfo.
He added that the community tried to face these challenges through worship and through work, an important part of St Benedict's teachings.
The cloister school remains an important focal point, as do the pilgrimages. But Father Othmar, who used to organise the pilgrimages, says even these have changed, becoming more international and focusing on individuals rather than large groups.
"But the duties associated with pilgrimages to Einsiedeln are still the same as they were 400-500 years ago, namely to try to direct the pilgrims we meet to Christ through Mary, mother of God," he said.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Einsiedeln
The magnificent baroque monastery building and the Chapel of Grace with the Black Madonna are the main attractions that many visitors come to see in Einsiedeln. The Salve Regina, a choral song in several voices, is sung in the chapel every day at 4.30pm. Guided tours of the monastery library, with its century-old book culture, are held daily. The monastery has bred its own horses since the Middle Ages parts of the stables of the “Cavalli della Madonna” are open to the public.
Tours of the monastery are available daily, organized by Einsiedeln Tourism.
Those who want to explore the monastery grounds under their own steam can go on the Monkstrail scavenger hunt. On this one-hour trail through the world of the monks, participants discover all kinds of exciting and interesting things about the Abbey.