Located a mere 5 minutes from our flat, Garsten Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery located in Garsten, a suburb of Steyr here in Upper Austria.
We had the privilege of getting to check out this beauty while at the Garsten Adventmarkt before Christmas, and I must say, it did not disappoint.
The abbey was founded in 1080-82 by Ottokar II of Styria as a community of secular canons and as a dynastic burial place for his family. Tandem with his fortress, the Styraburg (Schloss Lemberg), it served as a focal point for Ottokar as a ruler of Traungau.
In 1107-08 the monastery was gifted as a priory to the Benedictine Göttweig Abbey and later became an independent abbey in 1110. Its first and greatest abbot was Blessed Berthed of Garsten who is buried in the abbey church, and who built the abbey to such a level that for centuries it was the religious, spiritual, and cultural center of the Eisenwurzen region.
From 1625 Garsten Abbey was a member of the Benedictine Austrian Congregation, and in 1787 it was dissolved by Emperor Joseph II.
Now this is where things take a slight turn… Since 1851 the former monastery buildings have accommodated a prison, Justizanstalt Garsten. This is one of the few prisons in Austria where life sentences are carried out. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, we live this close to a maximum security prison; may I mind you, it’s the most beautiful maximum security prison this girl has ever seen.
Side note: If you have ever heard the story of Josef Fritzl (there’s a documentary on Netflix), he is serving his life sentence there.
The abbey church still survives as a parish church. It is considered one of the most beautiful examples of High Baroque architecture in Austria, and I can’t disagree. Throughout our entire visit the organs were playing, making it that much more of a surreal experience. I can’t help but be moved by the shear beauty and intricacy every time I walk into one of these beauties.