is the earliest preserved and most extraordinary visualization of a building complex produced in the Middle Ages. Ever since the Plan was created at the monastery of Reichenau sometime in the period 819-26 A.D., it has been preserved in the Monastic Library of St. Gall (Switzerland). Indeed, its presence there was singled out by UNESCO as a reason that the library, the repository of over 2000 late antique and medieval manuscripts, was designated a World Heritage site in 1983.
This web site, created with the financial assistance of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by scholars at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Virginia, presents the plan, its origins, components, and notations, as well as four centuries of scholarship on the plan within the context of ninth-century material culture.
Church of the Plan
Drawn and annotated on five pieces of parchment sewn together, the St. Gall Plan is 112 cm x 77.5 cm and includes the ground plans of some forty structures as well as gardens, fences, walls, a road, and an orchard. The buildings are clearly identified by 333 inscriptions. Of course, primary among the buildings is a church (pictured above) with its scriptorium, sacristy, lodgings for visiting monks, and reception rooms. There is also a monastic dormitory, privy, laundry, refectory, kitchen, bake and brew house, guest house, abbot's residence, and an infirmary. Finally, there are numerous buildings associated with the specialized economic operations of a complex community of over 110 monks and some 150 servants and workers.
, and who is responsible for its design remain the great, unsolved enigmas of Plan scholarship. What is clear from one of the inscriptions on the Plan itself is that it was designed for Gozbert, the abbot of St. Gall (816-837 A.D.) and the person responsible for building the monastery's great Carolingian church in the 830s. But the built structure does not entirely reflect the design of the church on the Plan; and the monastery complex foreseen by the Plan could not, in any case, have been fit onto the actual terrain of St. Gall. These facts have caused scholars to see the Plan less as a blueprint commissioned by Gozbert for St. Gall than as a generic solution developed by Carolingian monastic authorities for the ideal, or typical monastery that could be built anywhere in Europe. When and why they would have done so has been the focus of Plan research during the last fifty years.
While our inability to pinpoint the Plan's author and his motivation
is frustrating, the conclusion that the Plan was not created for a
specific time and place paradoxically makes it more valuable: the Plan
might be fairly characterized as a two-dimensional meditation on the
ideal early medieval monastic community, an "objective correlative" of
the Rule of St. Benedict, created at a time when monasticism was one
of the dominant forms of political, economic, and cultural power in