A Brief History of the Stift

A note on terminology


Abbatial status did not come to Klosterneuburg until late in its history,
so until then it will not be referred to as an abbey.
Several terms will be used interchangeably with regard to Klosterneuburg:
Canonry, Stift and Monastery. This last term is used because it has always been used for canonries.
The term “Stift” refers to a monastery founded by endowment.
In Austria and Bavaria, all monasteries of the “Old Orders” are called “Stift.”


A view of the Stift, as it was planned in the 18th century.


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 church.

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 It was superceded in most canonries by the Rule of Aachen, a rule of life promulgated by the Council of Aachen which was called for the purpose of reforming the canonries by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.


 

Salzburg Reform MovementIn the German-speaking lands the great promoter of the Augustinian Canons was Bishop Altmann of Passau. 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.Known 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 struggeld 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.

 

Salzburg Cathedral

Gerhoch of Reichersberg

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). 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 reform.

The introduction of the regular canons corresponded to the reform program of Archbishop Konrad of Salzburg. The Augustinian Canons were to build up the spiritual bases within the area, in order to promote pastoral work in the spirit of the ecclesiastical reform and to develop strongholds of lawful ecclesiastical authority. In this line of thinking, the bishops suggested that Leopold name Bl. Hartmann the first provost. A strong proponent of the Salzburg reform movement, he was at the time provost of the canonry in Chiemsee and already had experience in the reform of monasteries. It was he who as dean of the Salzburg cathedral chapter introduced the Rule of St. Augustine in 1122.

He moved into “Neuburg” with a picked team of canons from different communities, probably from St. Nicola, Chiemsee, 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, both educated in theology in Paris, and both who became provosts of Klosterneuburg.

This auspicious beginning started the new canonry off to a strong start and it remained for centuries a center of learning as well as strict discipline and firm adherence to the Holy See. From the beginning Hartmann accepted the care of the parish of Klosterneuburg. Hartmann initially gave the community a body of statutes, but these were soon supplanted by the statutes of Marbach in Alsace, as occurred in most canonries in southern Germany.

In a bull dated 30 March, 1134 Pope Innocent II granted to Klosterneuburg papal overlordship, thus freeing the new community from outside interference. The new church was blessed on 29 September, 1136. Margrave Leopold died a short time later ans was buried in a crypt beneath the chapter house, which quickly developed into a place of pilgrimage to the “Mild Margrave”, as he was already known in his lifetime. Official canonization came only centuries later. But with his death Klosterneuburg’s role as the margrave’s residence ceased. Leopold’s sons moved their residences elsewhere; Heinrich II, first Duke of Austria, made Vienna into the capital of the land. Hartmann himself was not to remain in Klosterneuburg, as he was named bishop of Brixen.

St. Leopold

Otto as Provost

Bl. HJartmann

Rudiger

Leopold and Agnes

Medieval Growth

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. Bertholds successor, Stephen of Sierndorf (1317-1335), 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 its 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. 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.

Stephen of Sierndorf

A globe in the library

Papal Deliberations for the Canonization of St. Leopold

Protestant and Catholic Reformation; Imperial Intervention

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 Hintermay’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.

Georg Hausmannstetter

Caspar Cristiani

Balthasar Polzmann

New Beginnings and Old Wars: The 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.

During this century the canonry undertook numerous renovations and building projects. In 1634 the baroque transformation of the Stift’s church was begun (including the organ on the left). The Stift was in good enough spiritual condition to undertake the administration of two other canonries, Wittingau and Forbes. Canons were sent from Klosterneuburg to give new life to these near-defunct canonries in Bohemia. In 1663, Emperor Leopold I proclaimed St. Leopold the Patron Saint of Austria and began the annual custom of leading a pilgrimage of the imperial court to Klosterneuburg on Leopold’s feast, Nov. 15.

In 1683 the Turk was again at the walls of Klosterneuburg. The emperor had been caught unprepared and he and the court fled to the west. Provost Sebastian Mayr left the Stift with the treasury on the 8th of July for Passau, followed five days later by the dean and the rest of the chapter who took refuge in the canonry of Ranshofen. Two members of the community were left in the Stift, Wilhelm Lebsafft, a priest, and the lay brother Marzellin Orthner (right) who undertook the command of the defenses. It was largely due to this lay brother that the citizens of the city undertook the defense of Klosterneuburg. Together with a small detachment of imperial soldiers, they held off the fierce attacks of the Moslems until at last, their losses too great to sustain, the Turks pulled back from Klosterneuburg and Vienna. When construction was resumed on the Stift’s church some time later, one of the frescos on the ceiling was dedicated to depicting this triumph over the infidel.

The 18th century brought still greater developments and changes for Klosterneuburg, for both good and ill. It was during this century that Emperor Karl VI, having lost the ‘War of Spanish Succession, determined to make of Klosterneuburg an “Austrian Escorial” (proposal on the right), thereby displaying his ideal of “throne and altar” united in one great, stately reality. All over Austria at this time the monasteries were undertaking huge renovation and rebuilding projects.

The great imperial apartments of places such as the famous Benedictine Stift Melk date from this period. Austrian monasteries became a showcase for the new baroque style, the wealth and influence of the monasteries and Church, as well as the might of the Habsburg crown. Paradoxically, it has been convincingly stated that these tremendous building projects, initiated/commanded by the crown but funded by the monasteries, actually served to undermine both the spiritual and the temporal realities of these monasteries.

Furthermore, this was most likely intentional on the part of the government. The Church was both wealthy and powerful, and the backbone of the Church in Austria was (and is) the monasteries. In order to bring the Church more under the sway of the state, the government forced the monasteries to essentially impoverish themselves in tremendous building projects. This emptied their coffers, put them into debt, and reduced their influence significantly, while simultaneously elevating the prestige and power of the Monarchy. What is more, the constant financial worries caused by this situation, as well as the incessant noise and chaos caused by turning the monasteries into huge construction sites, undermined religious discipline and morale.

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 community.

In that same year the Stift added its name to the list of all the other Austrian canonries which had already entered into a union with the Congregation of the Lateran, the oldest of the congregations of Canons Regular. In practice this was in order to obtain the privileges which the popes had bestowed upon the Lateran Canons. Technically this should have also achieved for the Austrian houses the right of exemption from episcopal jurisdiction, but the bishops resisted this and it was not obtained. But from this time on the Austrian canons could refer to themselves as “Lateran Canons”, and the provosts as “Lateran Abbots”.

Soon after the completion of the first, huge tract of the “New Stift” (right), or the new, baroque wing, in 1740 Emperor Karl VI died. Money was gone and the grandiose project was discontinued until the 19th century. Meanwhile the Stift undertook the ambitious project of opening a theologate to train its own clerics. And under Provost Ambros Lorenz the spirit of the Enlightenment was fostered in its scientific form within the house. He had the Stift’s museum organized in systematic fashion. Astonishingly, he sought to preserve medieval artworks in the Stift, though at the time they were given no value at all. It was he who managed to obtain for the canonry the famous “Albrechts Altar” (find a sample above). Among the great medieval pieces in the Stift are the world-famous Verdun Altar panels (originally the sides of an ambo), and the seven-armed bronze candelabra from the first half of the 12th century (right).

Andreas Mosmiller

Repulsing the Turks.

The Archdukes Crown

Marzellin Ortner

Proposal for the "Austrian Escorial"

Ernest Perger

The Bronze Candelabra


Josephinism and the Destruction of Religion

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”.

While many of his reforms were helpful for the populace, others were simply destructive. Already in 1782, the year the provost Floridus Leeb began his tenure (1782-1799, right), the Emperor issued the decree for the suppression of all contemplative religious Orders. Any that was permitted to remain in existence had to undertake active obligations (parishes, nursing, education, et al.) so as to prove their usefulness to the realm. Regular cathedral priories were secularized and some dioceses were suppressed or the see moved to another city. Pope Pius VI journeyed to Vienna in that same year to try to convince Joseph to desist, and at that time he visited Klosterneuburg, but Joseph was unmoved. Numerous canonries were suppressed, and the rest might have been had Joseph not died before he had a chance to do so in 1790. In total, he suppressed 413 religious houses during his reign.

The spiritual inheritance of Josephinism was worse. Public singing of the choral Office had been forbidden as being “dangerous for the health”. In many remaining monasteries the choir stalls were removed from the sanctuaries and placed in separate chapels not open to the public, and the liturgical schedule severely revised. All young juniors in religious Orders were to study theology at his state-run “General Seminaries”. The religious were forced to open numerous new parishes and staff them themselves. Previously they largely employed secular priests to staff the parishes so they could attend to the liturgical and temporal concerns of the monasteries.

This thrust many religious out of the houses, leaving them almost empty. Community life became something for those just entering and those gone home to die. These decisions have had wide-reaching effects even down to the present. Josephinism was really only done away with politically for the Church with the concordat of 1855 between the Austrian Monarchy and the Vatican.

Although Klosterneuburg was to be spared suppression, Joseph had personally commanded that they not clothe even a single novice until the number of religious in the house had been reduced from 37 to 18. The canonry went almost ten years without a clothing. The larger part of the abbey’s current 24 parishes were given to it under Joseph.

In other ways Klosterneuburg benefited from the rampant secularization, as the entire archive and many artworks were transferred to it from the suppressed canonry of St. Dorothea in Vienna. Two of the released canons of that house transferred to Klosterneuburg which had a stricter observance than they had been accustomed to at St. Dorothea. The rest of the community became secular priests. The Archducal crown, removed from the monastery by Joseph, was finally returned by his brother and successor, Leopold II, just two months after Joseph’s death in 1790.

Joseph II

Floridus Leeb

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 hit 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 in this section, as were suites for the canons and a new refectory. 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.

The annual pilgrimage of the Monarchy to Klosteneuburg in 1835.

A meeting in the Prelature.

Stift Klosterneuburg in the 19th Century.

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. It was unfortunate for the Stift that Piffl 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, 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, 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, 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.

Provost Gebhard presided over the rebuilding of the abbey’s economic situation in the post-war period, as well as the reconstruction of several rectories and churches belonging to the Stift which had been damaged or destroyed by the bombing. He also initiated new activities in the house and was elected Abbot General of the Austrian Congregation. It was in this capacity that he attended the Second Vatican Council. He received a further honor and responsibility when he was elected Abbot Primate of the Confederation of Augustinian Canons in 1969. On the celebration of his golden jubilee of priesthood in 1985 he inaugurated the “Provost Gebhard Koberger Institute for Research on the Augustinian Canons”. He finally resigned due to bad health in 1995 and died in 1997.

He was succeeded by the dean, Bernhard Backowsky, who was elected the 66th provost of Klosterneuburg, the fourth of that name, on the 14th of December of 1995. In October, 2002 Propst Bernhard was elected Abbot General of the Austrian Congregation, a position that every provost of Klosterneuburg has held since the founding of the congregation in 1907. As provost he has spearheaded numerous projects to promote the material and spiritual well-being of the Stift. These include the successful completion of an innovative environmentally-sound central heating plant, extensive ongoing renovations of the Stift Church and other buildings and the construction of a visitor center and underground parking garage. The provost’s global vision is likewise clear. He has put the Stift behind a program to support homeless Romanian children and brought the canonical life back to Norway, where Klosterneuburg has assumed the pastoral care of St. Paul’s parish in Bergen. In 2010, he was elected the Abbot-Primate of the Confederation of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. A month later, with his encouragement, the Chapter approved a plan to found a dependent priory in Glen Cove, New York with the care of two neighboring parishes; this foundation started in June, 2011.

A sample of the Jugendstil Vestments

Friedrich Piffl

Pius Parsch

Roman Scholz

Bernhard Backovsky