Convent of St. Gall

The town of St. Gall is located in northeast Switzerland and is widely known as a center of Christian theological study. The abbey library, built in the 8th century, houses approximately 160,000 priceless books and texts.

The library was built behind the cathedral. The entrance is adorned with the Greek sentence which means The Hospital for Souls. In the past a lack of knowledge or wisdom was considered a disease of the mind. This was a place where people could be cured.

The most important treasures are the manuscripts which were painstakingly written by the monks themselves. Over 2000 manuscripts were handwritten between the 8th and 12th centuries.

Cowhide was used for the outer covers and sheepskin was made into vellum for the pages. Vellum was very precious since only 2 or 3 pages could be made from a single sheep. It could be reused by erasing the original text with a pumice stone and then writing on the page again.

The monks transcribed each character very carefully. Writing was considered part of their religious training and was thought to deepen their faith. It took 5 minutes to write one line, and 1 and a half hours to write one page. After it was written the text was rubbed with marble to fix the ink into the page.

In addition to religious topics some manuscripts include medical and astronomical information. Writing consisted of several steps: first making a quill out of a young ducks feather, making ink from plants and minerals, and making an inkwell, perhaps out of a shell. Gold ink is a characteristic feature of the St. Gall manuscripts.

This book was written by one monk between 864 and 883. It weighs 7 kilos and has 350 pages. The vellum used to make it came from 80 sheep. This letter Q is a perfect example of the art which transcribing became. The first character of each paragraph was beautifully illustrated.

The abbey closed in 1805, after 1000 years of existence and creation. The library remains open and serves as an important source of European spiritual history.

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons