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Abbazia di Novacella

Neustift has a lar­ge church fea­turing pre­cious ves­t­ments and an excel­lent libra­ry. The Domi­ni­can priest Felix Faber, from Augs­burg, descri­bes the Augus­ti­ne col­le­gia­te church in Neu­stift near Bri­xen, a mid-way point on his way to the holy land. The libra­ry has been the lar­gest and most signi­fi­cant col­le­gia­te libra­ry in Tyrol sin­ce the Late Midd­le Ages to this very day, des­pi­te losing many of its books due to a far­mer skir­mish in 1525, count­less fires, and the major Dis­so­lu­ti­on of the Monas­te­ries at the start of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Claus­trum sine arma­rio qua­si cas­trum sine arma­men­ta­rio: a cast­le would be not­hing without an armou­ry, and the same app­lies to books, which are the soul of every cloister.

In 1142, Bishop Hart­mann com­mis­sio­ned its buil­ding just a cou­p­le of kilo­me­tres away from the bishop’s seat in Bri­xen in South Tyrol. Soon Neu­stift beca­me an important spi­ri­tu­al and cul­tu­ral cent­re. An impo­sing book collec­tion was essen­ti­al for cele­bra­ting mass, per­so­nal and com­mu­nal pray­er, table rea­dings and for the clois­ter school that goes as far back as 1160. Part of the collec­tion was given as a gift to the clois­ter, part was purcha­sed or com­mis­sio­ned direct­ly, most were howe­ver writ­ten by the abbots and mon­ks them­sel­ves, and the num­ber of books incre­a­sed expo­nen­ti­al­ly. The big­gest boom was during the estab­lish­ment of the wri­ting work­shop in the 15th century.

Pro­vost Niko­laus Scheyber (1439–49) com­mis­sio­ned two exten­si­ve gra­dua­ted bands made of lar­ge foli­os (approx. 70 x 50 cm) that could have only been made as a result of a team effort in a func­tio­n­ing scrip­to­ri­um. The pro­duc­tion of the lar­ge parch­ment bands, the black iron gall ink as well as the dif­fe­rent colours deri­ved from plants and mine­rals requi­red an incredi­ble amount of know­ledge. The Augus­ti­ne Canon Fried­rich Zoll­ner, who came to Neu­stift from the Lan­gez­enn clois­ter in Nur­em­berg for the libra­ry, worked as a wri­ter. Count­less, yet unknown hands worked on com­ple­ting the show­pie­ce with fleu­ro­née initi­als and opa­que colour pain­ting which stands out for its atten­ti­on to detail. On a slim bolus lay­er of app­lied gold sheet, the lit­ur­gi­cal book still con­veys its fasci­na­ting fes­ti­ve cha­rac­ter to this very day, some­thing which would have been even more vibrant more than four cen­tu­ries ago.

The inven­ti­on of the prin­ted book around 1450 revo­lu­tio­nis­ed the pro­duc­tion and dis­se­mi­na­ti­on of texts. Thanks to the stra­te­gic loca­ti­on at the cross­roads of an important tra­vel and tra­de hub in the alpi­ne area but also thanks to its exten­si­ve net­work of other clois­ters in Sou­thern Ger­ma­ny, Neu­stift expan­ded its book collec­tion swift­ly. No fewer than 820 incuna­bu­lum were obtai­ned by 1500. Spe­ci­fic books con­ti­nued to be hand­writ­ten, as wri­ting books was still con­si­de­red a spe­cial ‘ser­vice ren­de­red to God.’ The most well-known examp­le is when the Canon of Neu­stift, Ste­fan Stet­ner, wro­te a lit­ur­gi­cal tome in 1524 under the orders of Pro­vost Augus­tin Posch (1519–27). The docu­ment is con­si­de­red one of the most valu­able texts in Tyrol. The lively fleu­ron­née as well as the orna­men­tal and pic­to­ri­al con­tent, inclu­ding vivid mar­gin deco­ra­ti­ons pain­ted with opa­que colours, tog­e­ther with the two-page minia­tures are some of the most ‘valu­able work from the Renais­sance in sou­thern Ger­ma­ny’ (M. Roland).

The incre­a­se in books, the wish for repre­sen­ta­ti­on, and the will to reflect the Baro­que fee­ling deman­ded an expan­si­on of the libra­ry in the 18th cen­tu­ry. Pro­vost Leo­pold de Zan­na (1767–87) built a new buil­ding on the sou­thern side of the clois­ter: mas­ter buil­der Giu­sep­pe Sar­to­ri from Sac­co, near Rovere­to, one of the best Tyro­lean archi­tects of his time, built a two-sto­ry hall with a cir­cu­lar gal­le­ry bet­ween 1771 and 1778. Hans Mus­sack from Sis­trans near Inns­bruck fur­nis­hed the hall (11 x 23 m) with pre­cious stuc­cos in white and gold, con­vey­ing a decisi­ve­ly fes­ti­ve cha­rac­ter. The impres­si­ve por­tals with wood inlay work, the rock slabs making up the floor in white, black, and red with a cen­tral roset­te and the inset wall ward­ro­be with a wood-car­ved tit­le, a good 42 of them to be pre­cise. The ori­gi­nal four-paned win­dows with lead gla­zing are also a rari­ty. The­re are a good 20,000 books in this hall, with ano­t­her appro­xi­ma­te 76,000 in the adja­cent rooms. They docu­ment the cen­tu­ries-old signi­fi­can­ce of the clois­ter as a cul­tu­ral and trai­ning cent­re that goes way bey­ond the province.

Augus­ti­ner Chor­her­ren­stift Neustift
Stift­stra­ße 1
I–39040 Vahrn (South Tyrol)
Tel. +39 0472 836189

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Studium der Geschichte und der Deutschen Philologie in Innsbruck und Besançon, Frankreich. Danach Forschungsassistentin an der Universität Innsbruck. Seit 2014 wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin im Augustiner Chorherrenstift Neustift.

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