The Neustift Monastery
Living History since 1142
In 1142, the Blessed Bishop Hartmann founded the Augustinian Monastery of Neustift near his bishop’s seat of Brixen / Bressanone. Reginbert of Säben generously provided it with land and farms. His example was also followed by other benefactors, such that just twenty years after its founding, the monastery could already call more than a hundred farms and parcels of land its own.
The original monastery complex was for the most part destroyed by a fire in 1190, but the second complex that was erected immediately thereafter has maintained its essential features to this very day. The western tower of the collegiate church as well as the rotunda at the entry to the monastery have retained the Romanesque character of their construction. The original division of space around the cloister can still be clearly comprehended today.
The monastery experienced a genuine golden age in the fifteenth century. This was the period in which many of the artistic treasures originated, such as the manuscripts from the Neustift scriptorium that are decorated with miniatures as well as numerous altars, panels, and frescoes from famous artists such as Michael and Friedrich Pacher, Leonhard of Brixen / Bressanone, and Marx Reichlich. In order to protect the monastery and its art from impending danger from the Turks, the provost at the time, Leonhard Pacher, had the entire monastery surrounded by a wall. It was not, however, the feared invasion by the Turks but rather the peasants’ uprising of 1525 that left traces of devastation from which Neustift only slowly recovered again.
Only the seventeenth century was once again regarded as a period of upswing and a new radiance: the founding of its own academic, theological educational institution made the high quality-training of the canons possible. On top of that, large-scale structural changes were carried out: the entire southern wing of the monastery complex had another story added, the prelature was completely surrounded and connected with the monastery, and the interior of the collegiate church was renovated in the Rococo style. Finally, the famous library hall was built on the south side.
This period of stability and growth for the monastery was followed at the end of the eighteenth century once again by a time of great decisive moments. During the three Wars of Coalition against France, the monastery had to endure the quartering of troops from both sides in the war and oppressive taxes.
The Peace of Pressburg had devastating consequences for the Neustift monastery. All existing convents and monasteries in Tyrol were abolished and plundered. Manuscripts and books from Neustift were brought to Innsbruck, paintings and altars, including the famous Fathers of the Church altar by Michael Pacher, went to Munich, and gold and silver church objects were melted down.
When the reestablishment of the monastery was ordered in 1816 by an imperial edict, the community of canons had already been greatly reduced and the economic situation was catastrophic. Only around 1900 was it possible for the necessary repair and restoration work to be carried out on the monastery buildings and the church.
In the twentieth century, fascism and the Second World War meant a new break in the history of the monastery. The classical high school in Brixen / Bressanone that was run by the Augustinian canons was dissolved by the fascists, and after 1926 it was continued as a private school inside the monastery.
In 1945, Neustift was the target of a bombing by the Allies. This resulted in damage to the tower and to the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, which it was then possible to repair in the years following the war.
The development of the monastery can be clearly comprehended through the various buildings and works of art. Like the rings of a tree, they have grown out from the center of the complex, the monastery church and the cloister, and today they represent an evolved architectural ensemble.
The Augustinian Canons of Neustift
Since its founding, the Neustift monastery has been inhabited by Augustinian canons: priests who form a monastic community, who take the three vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, and who follow the rules of the order of St. Augustine.
St. Augustine was born in 354 AD in what is now Algeria. His path led through Carthage and Rome to Milan, where he was baptized in the year 387. Soon thereafter, he returned to his homeland in North Africa and became bishop there. Following the example of the early Christian community, he decided to gather the priests of the city in his house. Augustine viewed the communal life in the spirit of the gospel as an important condition for priestly and pastoral service. Out of this arose the regula of St. Augustine, the oldest monastic rule that has been handed down in the Occident (around 397 AD) which emphasizes right at the beginning the great significance of communal life:
The main purpose for your having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God, with one heart and one soul.
As early as the Early Middle Ages, priests had already joined together into communities at episcopal churches. In that way, it was to be achieved that the spiritual welfare of the people would start from a spiritually and economically sound base. Since these clerics were entered in a list (the “canon”), they themselves became known as canons. The community of the canons was called a “chapter” which was headed by a provost or else by the bishop.
But during the High Middle Ages, this monastery of canons increasingly encountered criticism because of the private property of its members. For that reason, in the wake of the Gregorian Reform, the monastic character – that is, a well-ordered communal life and a lack of personal possessions – was increasingly emphasized. In addition, from then on the canons were supposed to orient themselves to the example of St. Augustine.
Since not all monasteries followed the reform movement of the eleventh century, from then on a distinction was drawn between secular canons and regular canons. The Augustininan canons developed out of the latter. The abbreviation for their order, CR or CanReg, is derived from the Latin term canonici regulares.
In the course of the Late Middle Ages, various associations of canon monasteries developed. One of these congregations was that of the “Canons of the Most Holy Savior of Lateran”. Neustift has been connected with this since 1688. In 1907, Neustift joined together with the monasteries of St. Florian, Herzogenburg, Klosterneuburg, Reichersberg, and Vorau to form the “Congregation of Austrian Augustinian Canons”.
The central tasks of the Augustinian canons are spiritual welfare in the complete sense, the solemn structuring of the liturgy, and education. Today, the spiritual community of Neustift consists of twenty-three canons. Along with the provost Eduard Fischnaller, nineteen canons form the chapter and three clerics belong to the juniority.
The canons of Neustift are active as pastors in twenty-three parishes in South Tyrol, Italy and East Tyrol, Austria.
The Neustift Monastery
Center of Art and Culture
Since its founding in 1142, the Augustinian Monastery of Neustift has represented an important cultural center. Bearing witness to this are the various buildings and works of art from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era.
Baroque self-assurance, but also the important role which the monastery enjoyed are shown to their advantage at the so-called “Well of Wonders” from 1669 in the middle of the monastery courtyard. To the seven wonders of the ancient world, Nikolaus Schiel added a representation of the monastery in the eighth field.
The massive Romanesque clock tower of the collegiate church as well as the triple-aisled nave were built at the end of the twelfth century. They dominate the architectural ensemble and attract the gaze. The interior of the church, which was elevated to the level of basilica in 1956, no longer reveals very much about the former medieval construction, but rather it has become a jewel of the Tyrolean-Swabian Rococo. The plasterer Anton Gigl from Innsbruck and the painter Matthäus Günther from Augsburg created an impressive, colorful space flooded with light. The frescoes in the central nave depict scenes from the life of St. Augustine, while in the lateral naves, various saints from the Augustinian order are portrayed. The ceiling paintings unite the Romanesque nave with the somewhat raised Late Gothic choir into a harmonious whole.
The Chapel of the Virgin Mary is located at the northern lateral nave. The rotunda, which was built by Giovanbattista and Simone Delai of Bozen / Bolzano, reaches its artistic pinnacle in the dome frescoes by Ägidius Schor and Kaspar Waldmann of Innsbruck.
Extending to the south of the collegiate church is the cloister, from which at one time, all of the rooms that were important to the monastery community (the chapter house, the refectory, and the dormitory) could be reached. An arcade with pointed-arch openings surrounds a small inner courtyard with a well which was newly constructed in 1992 and which is decorated by a statue of Blessed Bishop Hartmann by Friedrich Gurschler.
Around 1480, Friedrich Pacher painted the parable of the poor Lazarus and the rich spendthrift in the third arcade of the cloister. Even though the central scene is destroyed today, the remains that have been preserved are a testament to the great artistic ability of Pacher. And in other locations, the paintings that were whitewashed over after the plague of 1636 and were subsequently completely forgotten were damaged by the placing of gravestones. Nevertheless, the frescoes which have been uncovered since the 1930s make it possible to still clearly recognize the former abundance.
From the south side of the cloister, the Monastery Museum is entered. Its artistic treasures include numerous panels and winged altars from the Late Middle Ages, such as the St. Augustine Altar of the Master of Uttenheim, or the St. Catherine Altar of Friedrich Pacher.
The monastery library closes off the monastery courtyard to the south. The hall (1773–1780), which was designed by Giuseppe Sartori of Sacco and decorated with elegant ornamental plasterworks by Johann Mussack of Sistrans, characterizes the transition from Rococo to Classicism and is unequivocally among the most beautiful library halls in the southern area of the German-speaking world. Some forty-two bookcases with carved upper sections hold approximately 98,000 volumes.
Every year, approximately fifty thousand visitors take part in the tours through the collegiate church, the cloister, the art gallery, and the famous monastery library.
School in the Monastery
A good scholastic education and a value-oriented upbringing of young people have been among the central tasks of the Neustift monastery since its founding.
As early as the twelfth century, the Augustinian canons founded a school within the monastery for the fostering of young people. This was soon also attended by children from the surrounding area. At first, the education lasted between one and four years, depending upon the educational progress and the goal that was sought, and the pupils were for the most part between the ages of ten and sixteen years.
Again and again, the monastery school had to be adapted to the political standards and situations. In the twentieth century, a two-year secondary school as well as a private humanistic high school (a “juniorate”) were held in the monastery. In 1963, the comprehensive middle school was introduced. In 1971, as a result of a lack of instructors, it was decided to cease the operation of the monastery’s own school. Since that time, the school has been run as a branch of the “Oswald von Wolkenstein” public middle school in Brixen / Bressanone. What has remained is the student residence, which today still houses around ninety boys each year from all over South Tyrol.
The Neustift Monastery Educational Center
In addition to scholastic education, an important role is also played in the Neustift monastery by personal and professional training and continuing education. With the goal of being oriented toward the needs of the times, in 1970 the abbot at the time, Dr. Chrysostomus Giner, founded a Tourism Center. An ecological center was soon added which organized continuing education in the ecosocial area. Over the course of decades, an Educational Center developed from this which today organizes nearly a thousand events, seminars, courses, and conferences per year on the most varied of topics.
All of these tasks which the Augustinian canons have looked after since their founding are possible thanks to well-functioning economic operations at the monastery. Within this context, special significance is ascribed to winemaking.
The Neustift Monastery Winery
The Neustift Monastery Winery is among the oldest active wineries in the world. As early as the founding of the monastery, Neustift was already generously provided by Reginbert of Säben with farms and land, which also included vineyards. Thus Pope Alexander III already acknowledged to the monastery in 1177 the ownership of vineyards in the nearby surroundings. Through gifts, endowments, purchases, and exchanges, the monastery acquired an impressive ownership of vineyards, and up to this very day, the monastery is surrounded by them. They range from the monastery at an elevation of 600 meters (2,000 feet) up the steep slopes as high as 900 meters (3,000 feet). The grapes have always been made into wine in the monastery’s own winery.
As archaeological findings have proven, winegrowing has been carried out on the protected slopes of the Isarco (Eisack) Valley for far more than 2,500 years. The efforts that had to be exerted in order to set up the vineyards is still testified to today by the many dry stone walls which divide the slopes into terraces and thus diminish their steepness. At the same time, this terrain also gives the northernmost cultivation zone south of the Alps its special feature: the terroir, the interplay between location, soil, and climate – has to be interpreted carefully, and for every microlocation, the question about the most suitable variety has to be answered anew. During the Middle Ages, it was primarily red varieties that were planted in the Brixen / Bressanone area, although with only modest success. During that period, the (red) wine from the Eisack Valley was supposedly so acidic that it damaged the health of the canons.
Around 1900, it was finally recognized that this area was much better suited to the cultivation of white varieties. Today, seven different white wines thrive here – Sylvaner, Müller Thurgau, Kerner, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer. All of them are distinguished by their intense fruit tones and a lively acidity. The large temperature fluctuations between day and night and the soils that were formed by glaciers from the Ice Age lend the grapes a highly mineral-rich quality.
Today, the grapes for the red wines of the Neustift Monastery Winery – also known using its Italian name, the Neustift Winery – ripen in Bozen / Bolzano and at the Marklhof in Girlan / Cornaiano. As early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, the provost Markus Hauser acquired vineyards in the Bozen / Bolzano basin which have remained in the possession of Neustift up to this very day. This purchase turned out to be very far ahead of its time, as was the acquisition of the Marklhof at the beginning of the twentieth century. At these excellent locations, Edelvernatsch (Schiava gentile), Pinot Noir, Lagrein, and the sweet Red Muscat are grown.
Wines from Neustift are known for their high quality and for being extremely characteristic of their individual region. The strict procedures for production and the principle of “better to have less but good” bring forth very full-bodied wines with great character, year after year.
The wines of the Classic Line distinguish themselves through an outstanding price-to-quality relationship . They are exported to approximately forty countries all over the world. The grapes from the very best locations, at which “everything comes together” from the temperature distribution to the age of the grapevines to the composition of the soils, are made into the wines of our cru line “Praepositus”. These white and red wines set themselves apart through their great concentration and intensity, they are very conducive to aging, and they regularly receive awards with the highest scores from the most renowned wine journals.
The white and red wines from Neustift can be tasted on site in the monastery winery where the tasting room, with space for up to 160 guests, offers the perfect invitation to while away the time. The monastery shop offers its own products for sale, including wine, distilled spirits, apple juice, herbal tea, and cosmetics, as well as other products primarily from other monasteries and convents throughout Europe.
Originally, the economic activity of the monastery was primarily concentrated upon the areas of agriculture and forestry. Today, the Neustift monastery has two agricultural operations: Neustift with 6 hectares (14 acres) of vineyards, 12 hectares (30 acres) of fruit orchards, and 0.2 hectares (half an acre) of herb gardens; and the Marklhof in Girlan / Cornaiano that belongs to the monastery, with 22 hectares (54 acres) of vineyards, 13 hectares (32 acres) of fruit orchards, and 24 hectares (59 acres) of woodland. Also belonging to the monastery are 700 hectares (1,700 acres) of forest and 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of Alpine pastures which make private hunting possible, among other uses.
The monastery’s enterprises: brief mission statement with company description
The Augustinian Canons Regular Monastery of Neustift was founded by Bishop of Brixen, the Blessed Hartmann in 1142. Since then it has been owned and run by the Augustinian Canons Regular.
The purpose of this order is on the one hand to observe the rules of the order, and on the other to engage in pastoral work – the monks care for 18 parishes – and to attend to the upkeep and maintenance of the monastery itself.
The last mentioned involves a diversity of activities, the coordinated and smooth running of which requires carefully thought-out, tried-and-tested organisation and efficient management.
Task and objective: each of the Monastery’s enterprises is tasked with producing goods and services offering very good to excellent value for money to ensure the name Neustift is and remains perceived as being synonymous with quality and reliability.
Each enterprise must be self-supporting; the divisions winery, bar, monastery shop must regularly achieve a surplus in order to cover the costs of restoration, refurbishment and building work on the monastery complex as well as for the upkeep of the religious community.
The monastery enterprises are as follows:
Forestry (approx.700 ha) and Alpine pastureland (approx. 400 ha), 2 proprietary game reserves.
Agriculture – Marklhof estate, Girlan, with 20 ha of vineyards, 13 ha of orchards (apples) and 24 ha of scrubland.
Agriculture – Neustift estate, Vahrn, with approx. 5 ha vineyards, 13 ha of apple orchards, and a 0.2 ha herb garden.
Historical garden in Neustift
Winery: the main winery is located at Neustift and produces white wine, plus the Marklhof estate on the Schreckbichl hill at Girlan where red grapes are grown. The grapes are crushed and the wines matured respectively in the cellars at Neustift and Marklhof, after which they are bottled and bottle-aged at Neustift. Annual production amounts to approx. 650,000 bottles, 2/3 of which are white, 1/3 red wine.
Monastery shop at Neustift where produce from the monastery’s estates (wines, brandies, apple juice, teas and infusions) plus 200 other products mainly from monasteries, abbeys and convents from all over Europe, are sold.
The monastery tavern at Neustift with seating for approx. 160 persons serves the estate wines, Tyrolean snacks as well as coffee, cakes etc.
Sales and distribution: this department is tasked with marketing the monastery’s products regionally and nationally through our own sales network, and internationally in co-operation with importers.
Guided tours: each year approx. 50,000 visitors take part in guided tours of the church, cloister, picture gallery and library.
Boarding school for up to 90 youths; the pupils attend school (annexe of the Oswald on Wolkenstein middle school – Brixen), live and sleep on the premises and must be catered for and supervised
Kloster Neustift congress and education house; this is an independent organisation but with numerous potential synergies in the area of management; its facilities – buying, kitchen and many others, are used intensively and consequently the centre must be viewed as part of the whole. The building has 50 beds, mainly in single rooms and at present offers facilities for guest events in the spheres of bible studies, computer technology, ecology, youth issues and health, and rents the infrastructure to customers specialised in further education.
Monastery kitchen: the monastery kitchen caters for various groups: cooking for the Canons Regular (approx. 13 persons), the boarding school (approx. 90 boys), the monastery canteen (approx. 10 – 30 employees, according to season), and the education house (up to 100 meals). Although the head cook bears overall responsibility for buying, preparation, hygiene and allocation, he requires constant support from the manager of the congress and education centre with regard to objectives and planning, and in this regard reports to him.
Wood chip heating fuel: heats the entire monastery complex and numerous outbuildings; the Neustift agricultural department is responsible.
Today 60 persons are employed on a permanent bases plus 40 seasonal employees. Each of the above sectors is headed by a manager who is responsible for the smooth operation of its respective activities.
The managers are responsible for allocating work and organisation, for personnel issues and employing new staff, for procurement with special attention to obtaining value for money, for maintaining equipment and machinery, for the timely ordering and changing of consumer goods, for the preparation of quotations (if engaged in sales), etc.
The managers enjoy a commensurate degree of freedom in decision-making in the normal course of their work, “as if it were their own company”, which at the same time means that they must accept responsibility for their sphere of influence.
Special tasks are planned in collaboration with the administrator who, in his turn, consults the abbot.
The threads of all departments are drawn together in the monastery administration. The individual managers report directly to the monastery administrator who, with the help of his own staff, co-ordinates the work of the various sectors and if necessary helps to direct their operations. He is vested with powers of attorney and is empowered to represent the monastery and its estates both externally and internally in all committees. In addition he carries out and supervises extraordinary activities (new projects and products, investments) and is responsible for finance and accounts.
The monastery administration is responsible for the central accounts department, the payroll, personnel matters, making payments, invoicing (except the education house), insurance, health and safety in the workplace and administers the HACCP register for all sectors. Management accounting is carried out by the monastery administration in co-operation with the sector managers. The monastery administrator in his turn reports to the abbot. He is the legal and official representative and at the same time the ultimate decision maker in the entire organisation. He delegates the regular activities in the enterprise “downwards”, extraordinary activities must be approved by the abbot in person without exception. If individual maximum budgets are exceeded the abbot must obtain sums for the relative undertaking from the chapter board or the Vatican.
Although the commercial enterprise “Kloster Neustift” has a clearly defined hierarchy, considerable importance is placed on best possible interlocking co-operation on the various levels and between the various sectors. This requires team spirit among employees and, in this enterprise especially, it facilitates strong synergies.
Facts and Figures
1142 Founding of the monastery by Bishop Hartmann of Brixen / Bressanone
1190 Destruction of the first monastery complex by fire
1198 Consecration of the collegiate church
c. 1370 Vaulting of the cloister
1472 Renovation of the choir
1625 Purchase of wine estates in the Bozen / Bolzano basin
1669 Building of the Well of Wonders
1735–42 Remodeling of the collegiate church
1772–78 Construction of the library hall
1807 Abolition of the monastery in the wake of Tyrol becoming a part of Bavaria
1816 Reestablishment of the monastery
1970 Founding of a tourism center (today’s Educational Center)
1987 Building of a hydroelectric plant since 1990 Sustainable agriculture
1992 Building of a wood chip system – since that time, CO2 neutral
2 hectares (215,000 square feet) of roof area
8 Wonders of the World
18 Three Glasses Awards from Gambero Rosso
18 incorporated parishes
23 Augustinian canons
25 hectares (62 acres) of apple orchards
40 countries exported to
58 abbots since 1142
88 hectares (210 acres) of vineyards, of which 28 hectares (70 acres) owned and 60 hectares (148 acres) with contract growers
365 puttoes in the collegiate church
400 hectares (1,000 acres) of alpine pastures
700 hectares (1,700 acres) of forest
c. 1,000 training and continuing education events per year in the monastery’s own Educational Center
c. 50,000 museum visitors annually
c. 98,000 books
350,000 liters (92,000 gallons) of heating oil saved every year through the monastery’s own biomass
700,000 bottles of wine per year (70% white wines, 30% red wines)