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St. Gall Monastry Plan
Plan Guide


The Plan of St. Gall 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.

Why the Plan was created, 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 Europe.

This site will provide access to the results of our long-term project of creating an extensive data base to aid research into the Plan and Carolingian monastic culture. Besides a variety of digital representations of the plan itself, the site includes a graphic representation of how the plan was physically made, detailed information on each of the component elements of the plan, and transcriptions and translations of its inscriptions. In addition, the site contains a series of extensive data bases including one presenting physical objects found across Europe that add to our understanding of Carolingian monasticism, one devoted to the terminology of Carolingian material culture, descriptions of all known Carolingian religious edifices, and an extensive bibliography on both the Plan itself and Carolingian monastic culture generally. A key word search feature allows one to find linkages across the plan components and all of the other, related data bases. Finally, the web site will provide an interactive space where visitors and users can contribute to and interact with other scholars studying the Plan in the context of medieval architecture and monastic culture. It is our hope that this complex resource will assist the continuing study of the St. Gall Monastic Plan and allow the international community of scholars to advance our understanding of this extraordinary object.