Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sankt Gerold

This week I spent a couple wonderful days in Austria at Propstei Sankt Gerold, which has long been associated with the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. Sankt Gerold is about an hour and a half away from Einsiedeln by car, just over the border from Switzerland and not too far from the Austrian border with Germany. Incidentally, we also passed through the very tiny country of Liechtenstein (I think).

It is to Sankt Gerold that several monks from Einsiedeln escaped with the original Black Madonna during the French Revolution until they were able to return to Switzerland. St. Gerold, as legend has it, was a hermit living on the site in the 10th century. Later, a monastic community was established. St. Gerold’s tomb and the original walls of the church can be viewed in the crypt below the existing church. Einsiedeln has held the property for over 1,000 years.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Einsiedeln’s Fr. Nathaniel Wirth carried out an extensive renovation of the buildings, many of which had fallen into disrepair. It is now a popular retreat and cultural center that draws many people from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It includes a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Einsiedeln, guest rooms, conference rooms, restaurant, swimming pool, hiking trails, and a lovely garden. A number of programs are conducted at Sankt Gerold, including concerts and horse riding therapy for handicapped and disadvantaged youth. It also serves as the church for the town of Sankt Gerold. Einsiedeln’s Fr. Kolumban (who studied at Saint Meinrad in the late 1990s) has been assigned to Sankt Gerold since last year.

It is a place of beauty and restoration for soul, mind, and body, as the top two photographs help illustrate. The sculpture helps define Sankt Gerold’s perspective. Fr. Kolumban explains that the mother represents visible reality while the child represents invisible or transcendent reality. Together, through the love of God, they are held together as one in this world. “As human beings, we are sinners redeemed by God’s love,” Fr. Kolumban says. “But before that was made necessary, we were created in God’s image by that very same love. Sometimes we forget that.”

It’s a good image with a simple but profound message.

During the visit to Sankt Gerold, Fr. Kolumban and I visited a couple of very old churches in the surrounding area. Pictured is the interior of St. Martin on the outskirts of the mountainside village of Ludesch. It is one of the loveliest, most well-preserved old churches I have ever seen. The current stone and stucco structure (with walls about 4 feet thick) was built around 1400, but evidence suggests its history stretches back at least a couple hundred years further. The current interior architecture, artwork, and Gothic furnishings date to about 1600. Also included is a Romanesque crucifix from around 1200.

The thin but sturdy wooden rails in the foreground of the photo were used as benches and kneelers on the right side of the sanctuary where the men sat (15th or 16th Century). Women had to sit on the left, but they didn’t have to kneel as the men did, so there are no elbow rests on their side. Another church we visited in Bludesch had the same seating arrangement. I suppose anything is possible, but I can’t imagine anyone nodding off in such circumstances.

Lastly, purely for your amusement, is my new friend Tiffany hamming it up after giving me a ride around Sankt Gerold. It was my first jaunt on horseback, but Tiffany was very patient and attentive—not to mention sturdy. After all, she’s used to dealing with children.

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