Melk, Abbey of
MELK, ABBEY OF
Benedictine monastery on the Danube, 44 miles west of Vienna. After the Avars were destroyed, the area was given to the Bavarian abbey of Herrieden in 831, and in 976 the Babenbergs built their castle in Melk. A canonry was there c. 1000, and in 1014 the relics of the Irish martyr St. coloman (d. 1012) were translated to Melk. In 1040 the abbey received a large fragment of the Holy cross. During the investiture struggle, Leopold II Babenberg brought Benedictines from lambach to Melk (1089). The abbey flourished under Abbot Erchenfried (d. 1163), being famed for the Annals of Melk (1123–1564; Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores, 9:479–537), necrologies, the Melk hymn to the Virgin, the poet Heinrich, and the cloister school. St. leo pold iii gave the castle with a rich endowment to the Benedictines and in 1110 obtained from Rome an exemption for the abbey. A fire in 1297 destroyed the monastery and its library. In 1418, during the Council of Constance, Duke Albrecht V Hapsburg brought Austrian and German Benedictines from subiaco to Melk to reform monasteries in Austria, Bavaria, and Swabia. Reformers of this period at Melk were Abbot Nicholas Seyringer (d.1425), Peter of Rosenheim (d. 1433), Martin of Senging, and Johann Schlitpacher (d. 1482). Melk did not form its own congregation or join those of kastl or bursfeld, and the reformed monasteries declined rapidly during the Reformation. A third period of growth began when Abbot Reiner of Landau (d. 1637) founded an Austrian Benedictine congregation, whose members included the canonist H. L. Engel; the historians A. Schramb (d. 1720), P. Hueber (d. 1725), B. and H. Pez; and the librarian M. Kropf (d. 1779). The abbey school was completely restored. Neither the Enlightenment (c. 1785) nor the increasing of the abbey's parish ministries (to 29) benefited Melk. The aesthetician M. Enk von der Burg (d. 1843) and the historian I. Keiblinger (d. 1869) were monks at Melk. In 1964 the abbey had 40 members, of whom 33 priests were engaged in parish work or in the direction of the liberal arts Gymnasium. The library had 75,000 volumes, 1,800 MSS, and 800 incunabula. The archives held 1,800 documents.
The small original castle, enlarged in the 15th century, was pulled down by Abbot B. Dietmayr (1700–39) for the baroque construction of Jakob Prandtauer (1660?–1726). Behind a massive gate flanked by two towers is the west façade, divided by pilasters and marked by a central and two lateral projections. The center story is made prominent, here as elsewhere, by greater height and broad window sills and lintels. The prelates' court (273 feet by 136.5 feet) is divided in the same way. The stuccoed main stairway leads to the Emperor's Walk (637 feet long). In the prelature are two table altars, one by Jörg Breu (c. 1502) and one by the school of A. Dürer (1526). The archives hold the gold cross of Melk (1362). To the west is the two-story Marble Hall, the walls divided by composite and Atlantean capitals. The balcony, with its wonderful view of the Danube valley, leads to the library, the counterpart of the Marble Hall. The paintings Triumph of Reason and Glorification of Faith, are by Paul Troger (1731). The architecture, the paintings, and the orange, gold, red-brown, and gray of the church walls combine in an impressive harmony. The nave is barrel-vaulted in three sections and has, on each side, three chapels with galleries. The walls of the church are divided by huge fluted pilasters and seem to hang from the rich and prominent ceiling cornices. The altars of St. Coloman and St. Benedict extend the transept but little beyond the nave. On the main altar, by A. Beduzzi, the patrons of the church, SS. Peter and Paul, take leave of each other before martyrdom. The paintings in the nave, Sources of Grace, Three Divine Virtues, and Life of St. Benedict, are by M. Rottmayr (1721). The saints in heaven are portrayed in the dome (208 feet high); the choir stalls are by P. Widerin (1736).
Bibliography: a. schramb, Chronicon Mellicense (Vienna 1702). c. leonardi and g. koller, eds., Sublacensium et Mellicensium consuetudines (Corpus consuetudinum monasteriorum ; Siegburg 1963). f. klauner, Die Kirche von Stift Melk (Vienna 1946). g. dehio, Die Kunstdenkmäler Österreichs (Vienna 1962). e. kummer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 7:259–260.