Birgittine library found & in danger

Some news about a newly discovered library, and its immanent future.


The Birgittine scholars who met in Altomünster for a symposium in October 2015 did not expect to discover an unknown library containing uncataloged books including illuminated cantus sororum manuscripts, normative texts, and devotional literature dating back even before the founding of this monastery at the end of the 15th century. Art historian Eva Lindqvist Sandgren and musicologists Michelle Urberg and Karin Strinnholm Lagergren spent the day following the symposium exploring and photographing the collection. Volker Schier and Corine Schleif immediately sought and received permission from the prioress Sister Apollonia Buchinger to have the collection assessed, and began to procure funding for a preliminary inventory and catalog.


Then equally unexpectedly in December 2015 the Vatican announced the closure of this papal monastery. Shortly thereafter the dissolution began. This still working monastery, housed in a historic architectural complex including a nuns’ gallery and other specifically Birgittine details, the last major work of the rococo architect Johann Michael Fischer, with furnishings, was closed to scholars and journalists. Internally, locks and steel doors were installed prohibiting even the remaining nuns from entering the chapter house, the library and other portions of the monastery. Many significant works of art were removed from their long-standing locations in what remains of the nuns’ tract.


The Birgittenkloster, Altomünster, is one of only three remaining foundations from the original order founded by Saint Birgitta of Sweden in the 14th century. Altomünster is the only Birgittine monastery continuously inhabited since its initial settlement. It is believed that the present library constitutes over 500 books, including manuscripts and incunabula, as well as associated archival sources. With at least 14 late-medieval antiphoners, possibly as many as 30 processionals, and a large collection of 18th-century liturgical manuscripts, the collection promises to more than double the known sources documenting the performance of Birgittine chant. The unique illuminations, made for or by nuns, will serve to extend current understanding of women’s religious practices during the late Middle Ages and early modern periods.


There is a petition going round, if you want to sign:


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