Wednesday, June 12 - Melk Abbey

After a ride from Germany back into Austria through the scattered villages of the rolling Alpine foothills, we came to the town of Melk, where they were still in the process of recovering from the flooding.  It was astonishing to see how quickly the cleanup had progressed in the few short days since the waters had receded.  Lunch in a charming restaurant/hotel (one of the loveliest Best Westerns we have ever seen!), we were off to see the Abbey.

Situated on a rock overlooking the Danube, Melk Abbey is one of the largest and most beautiful architectural ensembles of the European Baroque.  Its splendid architecture is famous world-wide, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Austria's history is closely intertwined with that of the Abbey.  Some of the country's  earliest rulers - the margraves Henry, Adalbert and Ernest of Babenberg - are buried in the Abbey Church, where one can also find the graves of the first "house saint" of the Babenbergs, St. Coloman, who was lower Austria's patron saint until the 17th century.

Since 1089, Benedictine monks have been continually living and working in Melk Abbey.  Following the rules set down by St. Benedict, they attempt to translate into action the motto, "Ora et Labora et Lege" (Pray and Work and Read) by working in pastoral care and education.  The monastery is responsible for staffing 23 parishes in the surrounding area, as well for the Abbey boarding school, which currently has about 930 students enrolled.

We had yet another amazing and well-versed guide in Martin, one of several hundred employees of the Abbey.  He took us efficiently but with thorough explanations through the abbey museum, the (faux) Marble Hall and the Library, before turning us loose on our own to discover the multitudinous treasures of the Abbey Church.

The Abbey Museum, in the former Imperial Rooms, contains the exhibition "The Path from Yesterday to Today," which makes use of eccelsiastical and secular art and artifacts of the period, seamlessly integrated with 21st century multi-media genres to tell the story of the monastery's 900-year history.  The Marble Hall and Library are masterpieces of Baroque interior design; the Library is one of the most harmonious of this opulent period.  Over 16,000 identically bound books give this series of rooms an unforgettable atmosphere of richness and calm.  But the crowning glory of the Abbey is the Abbey Church, which is among the most beautiful and ornately appointed Baroque churches in the world.  It is an undisputed textbook example of the High Baroque style.

There never is enough time to drink in all the splendors to which we are being exposed, and all too soon it was time to ascend the 64 steps to the bus park and resume our trek to Vienna.  The countryside eventually gave way to more populated areas as we entered the outskirts of the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the next chapter in our river- and land-cruising tale got under way.

More later - Auf wiedersehen!

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