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Friday, December 27, 2013

Austrian Manuscript Library Tour, Part 1: Stift Göttweig

Codex manuscripts on the shelf.
 "A pleasant place to stay, good air to breathe, quiet peaceful atmosphere, and a magnificent view over the Danube Valley. The Stift is 400 ft. above the highway." (Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, in his report on Stift Göttweig from 1966)

Sometime in April or May 1966, HMML's first field director, Father Oliver Kapsner, OSB, arrived at the Abbey of Göttweig ("Stift Göttweig") in Lower Austria, on the south bank of the Danube--near the town of Krems und Stein. While we do not have a date for his arrival, he indicated a closing date of July 1, 1966 (having finished at his previous site of Stift Herzogenburg on April 17, 1966).  He further states that the Benedictine abbey has "a major collection, both as to size and quality. Its excellence can be seen both in variety and depth." Our records show that 542 manuscripts were photographed with black/white microfilm there, including many individual items in color (you can find nearly 1500 digital images by searching Göttweig in Vivarium, or clicking here).

Feeling very close to the ninth century - at Stift Göttweig.

Earlier this month (December 2013), I had the great pleasure to visit Stift Göttweig, meet the curator and his staff, as well as the monastery's archivist. I was in Krems, Austria, for a round table discussion on digital humanities and the future direction of digital resources and environments. A colleague from the round table's hosting institution--the Institut für Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit--volunteered to drive me from Krems to Göttweig. Considering the difficult transit connections between the two (Father Oliver provides precise directions to get there by train and bus), I was grateful for the offer.

Of course, in another life (or season) I might have taken a different means of transportation.

Saint Benedict blesses the bicycle, July 1982. Stift Göttweig in the background.

In early July 1982, a shaggy, red-headed student of early German language/literature (i.e., "me"), was peddling his way from Sankt Pölten to Krems (by way of Herzogenburg), and then from Krems to Stift Melk, further up the Danube. He made sure to spend an extra day in Krems so he could bike back to visit Göttweig. Along the way, he even found the opportunity to have his Drahtesel ("wire donkey") blessed by Saint Benedict himself!

So, my trip two weeks ago was retracing my path (in part) from 31 years prior!

This time, the weather was considerably less sunny, but the tour was fabulous nonetheless. I met Angelika Koelbl at the Institut's office in Krems about 2:00 pm, and we trundled off together to the Stift, about a 20 minute drive. She explained that she works part-time at both locations. At Göttweig she helps Pater Franz Schuster, OSB, in the Abbey archives.

Note the jackets! The Archives are not heated, although their work room is.
Angelika Koelbl and Pater Franz Schuster, OSB, in the Göttweig Abbey Archives.

Angelika took me first to meet the curator of the graphic and manuscript collections, Pater Gregor Martin Lechner, OSB. HMML writes for permission before making any copies of microfilms for scholars, and for several years Pater Gregor has been our primary contact at the Abbey. I was warmly greeted and received a roughly four-hour-long tour of the library and archives! Pater Gregor led us to the room where the manuscripts are stored, next to the main room of the Abbey library.

It is probable that Father Oliver Kapsner worked in this room during the microfilming project in 1966.
Although the room has modern heating, the wood-burning ovens of
yesteryear are still in evidence everywhere.

He was so kind as to pull out one of the gems of the collection, a ninth-century psalter that is the oldest manuscript in the collection. At one time, this manuscript was described as being much later in origin, but his estimate of late ninth-century was verified by other paleographers. HMML has several photos of this manuscript in Vivarium, although they are not as interesting as the original manuscript, of course!

Pater Gregor with Codex Gottwicensis 30 (2), a psalter dated about 870 A.D.

HMML-produced microfilms in the reference library at Stift Göttweig.

When HMML worked in Austria (and elsewhere), it always provided a copy of its microfilms to the libraries that owned the manuscripts. The microfilms at Göttweig are stored in a special cabinet in the reference library, which is separate from the Baroque library. Pater Gregor was kind enough to show me the older space, but since it was a late afternoon in December and the main library has no electricity for light, I was not able to take any photographs. The library itself lies within the monastic cloistered space, so it is not generally accessible to the public. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Baroque library as well as other storage and work areas.

Microfilm reader provided as part of the HMML project in the 1960's.

The four-digit number in bluish-green ink is the HMML project number, added to the handwritten catalog of the Göttweig collection. Further evidence of the importance of HMML's collaboration with Austrian libraries.

 After touring the manuscripts and incunabula, Pater Gregor led us back to the offices of the Graphische Sammlung (Graphical arts collection), which is the second largest in Austria (the Albertina in Vienna is the largest). The spaces for the Graphische Sammlung are in one of the oldest parts of the monastery, dating back to the Middle Ages, but the insides have recently been thoroughly renovated to proved a very modern space for working with (and storing) the graphic materials. Much (although not all) of the graphic arts collection has been digitized for internet access. Even the medieval codex manuscripts are expected to be digitized very soon.

Note the wonderful wooden cabinets for storing the archival materials.
The holes allow air to circulate, without allowing rodents in.

The Abbey archives are stored in a separate part of the complex, and are quite extensive. Prior to 1848, the Abbey held many properties in the surrounding area, so its records provide insight into the economic and daily life of much of Lower Austria and the Wachau.

More archival materials at Stift Göttweig.

An extremely large book of records from the early modern period. The entries refer back to transactions recorded in other volumes.

In the four hours that I spent at Stift Göttweig, I was made to feel a very welcome guest. During that time I did not see any of the usual tourist sites, but I was blessed to visit some of the back areas that speak of the 900+ years of monastic presence on this mountain top by the Danube. Perhaps I will someday return to see the other parts of the Abbey, but I know that I received a true Benedictine welcome during my visit. Father Oliver's glowing description was right--Stift Göttweig is well worth the visit! ***

Blessings on the community at Stift Göttweig and its friends!

In my next blog post I will visit the Abbey of Melk, where Father Oliver also worked in the 1960's.

[*** Addendum: in 1966, HMML had just appointed a new director, Julian G. Plante, who would remain at the library for over 25 years. In a letter to Dr. Plante, Father Oliver recommends Stift Göttweig as a place where he can familiarize himself with manuscripts more deeply: "Such a possibility would be here at Göttweig, a famous Benedictine abbey, with an excellent manuscript collection, with variety and depth. It is agreeable to the authorities here that you come here. You can live right here and study the manuscripts to your heart's content." (letter dated April 26, 1966) So, Göttweig nurtured HMML's mission right at the start of its work!]