In a town adorned with a myriad of captivating sights, one gem shines brighter than the rest – the St. Gallen Abbey Library. Nestled in the heart of St. Gallen, this architectural marvel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. During my visit in 2017, I was spellbound by a special exhibition: ‘Fascination of the Alphabet – the Evolution of Latin Script.’ It offered a rare glimpse into an exquisite collection of manuscripts dating back to the 9th century. The library’s history weaves through the tapestry of the Middle Ages, where scripts evolved, merged, and transformed. From the standardization of Carolingian minuscule to the flourish of cursive writing, this library chronicles the evolution of Latin script. It’s a journey that paved the way for modern typefaces.
Exploring the Treasures of Knowledge: St. Gallen Abbey Library
During my visit in 2017, there was a special Exhibition, ‘Fascination of the Alphabet – the Evolution of Latin Script’. In this exhibition, you are able to have a look at a unique collection of manuscripts dating even back to the 9th century. The Early Middle Ages saw the emergence of many different regional scripts, which were based on Antique scripts. Under Charlemagne († 814) a counter-movement took place which led to a standardisation of lettering. Carolingian minuscule was the standard script in most of Europe from the 9th until the 12th century.
In the Late Middle Ages, other scripts began to appear. While the most luxurious manuscripts were adorned with complex calligraphy, the writers of books on trading or everyday topics attached more importance to speedy writing. This led to the development of cursive writing with many abbreviations. Modern readers tend to find that legibility is sometimes neglected in the interest of speed.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, humanists south of the Alps reverted to the use of Carolingian minuscule, which they further developed, thus laying the foundations for our modern typefaces.
But besides the exhibition, the Abbey Library is simply fantastic. The library hall is in Rococo style, designed by architect Peter Thumb in the 8th century, soon, more than 1200 Years ago. Abbey Library St. Gallen is the most important historical library in the world, as it’s one of the large monastic libraries of the Early Middle Ages. In 1983 both the library and Abbey of St. Gallen became a UNESCO World Heritage site. To keep everything as good as possible you have to wear slippers over your regular shoes, and photographing is prohibited. Also, the Temperatures inside the Library Hall are always kept low to give the papers good conditions to survive.
A very useful fact is that the library nowadays does not just consist of old manuscripts, part of the more than 160,000 books are available to borrow or for reading. More Info on the lending library can be found on their website.
Unearth the secrets of the St. Gallen Abbey Library, where history, culture, and literature converge to form an unmissable experience.
St. Gallen Abbey Library
Address: Klosterhof 6d, 9004 St.Gallen, Switzerland
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm, last admission 4:45 pm
Admission: CHF 18 + Audio guide to the Abbey Library and Abbey Precinct of St.Gallen CHF 5