Everyone who enters Melk Abbey passes under these words – they reference the cross of Christ primarily but also refer to one of the abbey’s most treasured artifacts: the Melk Cross. The Melk Cross contains a relic, the jawbone from an Irish missionary martyred by the local populace. It’s under lock and key in the abbey – in a secret room, we were told. However, the imperial rooms of the abbey have been turned into a museum to house many other abbey artifacts.
These rooms are called imperial because they are where the Habsburgs stayed when they visited the abbey on their way west. They would bring all their own furniture with them. But as you can see, the rooms where they stayed were opulent without furniture. As I said, those rooms are now exhibit space to tell visitors the story of the abbey itself. Each room has its own theme, and some even have their own color scheme.
The sequence of rooms follows the history of the abbey: from its founding under Benedictine principles through the medieval period, the Baroque period, the Enlightenment, and into the present.
My particular favorite was the room dedicated to Emperor Joseph II, Maria Theresa’s son. As I mentioned in the Dürnstein post, he was an Enlightened man who believed in austerity. He personally designed leather vestments for the priests because they were cheaper. The abbey displays two of these today, but our tour guide was careful to point out that the leather has not stood the test of time. Joseph II also designed a reusable coffin he thought would be quite economical: it was used for burial and then has a quick-release lever that would allow the body to be buried without a coffin. Needless to say, this was not a popular move, so the reusable coffins were only used for about 6 months.
The final room of the imperial rooms exhibit showcases altar paintings from the abbey church: brilliant in their colors and vivid in their detail. One side showcases the events of Christ’s crucifixion, and the other displays scenes from Christ’s birth and early life.
Check back tomorrow for information about the library, Marble Room and abbey church.
Title quote: Latin for “Glory only in the cross,” the words over the entrance to Melk Abbey