Admont Abbey Library

Admont, Austria | C.1776

Photo Credit: Hamad Albarjas

“Like our understanding, spaces too should be filled with light.” Austrian master builder Josef Hueber stated. A prominent architect during the Age of Enlightenment, Hueber shared in the movement’s ideals of understanding through the senses, and readily applied this design philosophy when creating the magnificent Admont Abbey Library, the largest monastery library in the world.

Admont Abbey is a Benedictine monastery built in the 11th century. When the Abbey’s library was completed in 1776, the world was in the throes of a global transformation. Across the Atlantic, the framework for a new democratic foundation was being laid, igniting the American Revolution, with the French following suit only decades later. While the political ideals of Enlightenment abetted in toppling these monarchies, they served to build new institutions in Austria, such as the Admont Abbey Library.

Hueber designed the massive repository in the Baroque style, with three main chambers and floor-to-ceiling shelving, while large windows provided his light-filled ideal. This vision of knowledge was topped by a ceiling of cupolas, adorned by 80-year old artist Bartolomeo Altomonte, who spent two summers painting seven frescoes that portray the various phases of human understanding as determined by the Enlightenment: thought and speech; sciences and art; culminating with Divine Revelation in the central cupola.

The Admont Abbey Library continues to purvey the ideals of the Enlightenment, inviting visitors to browse at their own pace, without physical barriers or the aid of a chaperone. In total, it exhibits 70,000 volumes of the Abbey’s total 200,000 books. Among these are 1,400 manuscripts with some dating as far back as the 8th century A.D., proof of the undying light of shared intellect and understanding, and its power to fill the space of our minds.

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