Millenary Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma and its Natural Environment

As the UNESCO comments:

The first Benedictine monks settled here in 996. They went on to convert the Hungarians, to found the country’s first school and, in 1055, to write the first document in Hungarian. From the time of its founding, this monastic community has promoted culture throughout central Europe. Its 1,000-year history can be seen in the succession of architectural styles of the monastic buildings (the oldest dating from 1224), which still today house a school and the monastic community.

 

潘诺恩哈尔姆千年修道院及其自然环境: 这里的第一座修道院建于996年,为了教化匈牙利人,又建立了第一所国家学校,且在1055年,撰写了第一份匈牙利文档案。自创建之日起,这个修士团体便促进了中欧文化的发展。它1000年的历史可以从修道院建筑风格的连续性看出来(最古老的建筑于1224年完成),今天它仍然是学校和修士团体的屋宇。

The monastery of the Benedictine Order was founded in 996 in Pannonhalma and it played a significant role in diffusing Christianity in Medieval Central Europe. It can be found on the almost 300m-high hill of St. Martin in the Pannonian landscape in western Hungary. After more than a thousand years, it is still an active and functioning monastery where the monks still live their lives on the basis of the Rule of St. Benedict. The rules were written by St. Benedict almost 1500 years ago and the adapted application of them is still a current practice here. With their motto being “Ora et labora“, which means “Pray and work” in English, one of the most important tasks of the Benedictine monks at present is to teach and educate the youth. This commitment of the monastery is well represented by the grammar school on site, which I will talk about in detail later.

1996 was a very important year for the archabbey of Pannonhalma because first of all, it marks the thousandth anniversary of the abbey’s foundation. Secondly, Pope John Paul II visited it and thirdly, it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list due to its outstanding universal value. This property, covering all the aspects of Benedictine monastic life, is composed of the whole monastic complex including buildings of the archabbey, the basilica and its crypt, the educational buildings, the Chapel of Our Lady and the Millennium Monument, as well as its natural surroundings including the archabbey’s botanical garden, herbal garden, parks and forests. It meets two of the ten Selection Criteria proposed by the World Heritage Committee, which are “(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history” and “(vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.”

As elaborated by the UNESCO:

Criterion (iv): The Monastery of Pannonhalma and its surroundings illustrate in an exceptional manner the characteristic setting, the connections with its environment, the specific structure and the organization of a Christian (Benedictine) monastery that has evolved over a thousand years of continuous use.

Criterion (vi): The Benedictine Monastery with its location and the early date of its foundation in 996 bear special witness to the diffusion of Christianity in Central Europe, which is enriched by the continuing presence of the Benedictine monks who have worked towards peace among countries and people for one thousand years.

In this post, I’ll focus on my introduction to the present church, the building of which began in 1224, the crypt, where the bone relic of St. Martin of Tours, the heart of Otto von Habsburg and the supposed throne of King Saint Stephen are kept, the main south door, also called Porta Speciosa, the cloister, a typical square Late Gothic ensemble built in 1486, the Baroque library, which was built in two stages between 1824 and 1835 and the botanical and herbal garden. In addition, I’ll also give you a brief introduction to the Chapel of Our Lady, the Millennium Monument, the grammar school, the VIATOR Abbey Restaurant and Wine Bar, the winery, and the Abbey Museum and Gallery. Please note, all the information are based on what I read from the UNESCO World Heritage website, from the brochure called “Pannonhalma World Heritage and Surroundings” that I obtained from the TriCollis Visitor Center and from the brochure called “Pannonhalma” that I obtained from the Tourism Office in the village of Pannonhalma.

1. Practical information

To make sure that you will have a smooth and pleasant visit to the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, I’d like to share with you some practical information first. When are the opening hours of the archabbey? How much is the admission fee? How to get there? Now, I’ll answer these questions for you.

1.1 Opening hours (as of 2018)

  • Closed in the first two weeks of January
  • 16th January – 20th March: 10:00 – 15:00 (closed on Mondays)
  • 21st March – 30th April: 9:00 – 16:00 (closed on Mondays)
  • 1st May – 31st May: 9:00 – 17:00
  • 1st June – 31st August: 9:00 – 18:00
  • 1st September – 10th November: 9:00 – 16:00 (closed on Mondays)
  • 11th November – 20th March: 10:00 – 15:00 (closed on Mondays)

If you plan to visit the archabbey in 2019 or even later please click here for updated information.

1.2 Admission fees

During opening hours, individual visitors can visit Pannonhalma Archabbey by using the audio guide, which is available in Hungarian, German, English, French, Italian, Russian, Polish, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese and Slovak. The duration of the visit is not limited but visitors are kindly asked to leave the building 1 hour before the official closing time. In general, the admission fee including the rental of audio guide is:

  • Adults: 2400 HUF (around 7.7 euros)
  • Students: 1200 HUF (around 3.8 euros)
  • Family ticket (2 adults and their children under 18): 4800 HUF (around 15.5 euros)
  • ADuring liturgical occasions, the admission fees are 50% off

If you are visiting with a group of more than 15 people, you can have a tour with a guide which costs:

  • Adults: 3000 HUF (around 9.5 euros) (during liturgical occasions 2100 HUF)
  • Students: 1700 HUF  (around 5.5 euros) (during liturgical occasions 1400 HUF)

If you wanna have a guide but are not in a group of more than 15 people, you can pay an additional fee of 20000 HUF (around 64 euros) (10000 HUF during liturgical occasions). Please note, no matter for organised groups or private visitors, guided tours (with a real guide instead of an audio guide) must be booked in advance. Please contact the staff of the TriCollis Booking Office of Pannonhalma Archabbey.

  • Phone: (+36 96) 570 191
  • E-mail: info@osb.hu

Besides visiting the archabbey, various programs including guided tours in the Archabbey Winery, in the Herbal Garden, in the mineral water filling plant and so on are also available upon prior booking. If you are interested, please click here for more information (such as the admission fees etc.).

Based on my own experience, I would say having a private guide makes the visit more interactive and personal. For example, through asking questions, guessing and answering, the whole experience becomes more interesting and active. My guide was knowledgeable and while we were chatting, I learnt a lot not only about the history of the complex but also about some interesting facts, legends and rumors about the decorations, furnishings etc. I didn’t rent the audio guide so I can’t evaluate the quality of it for you but based on the direction signs, I can assure you that the audio guide route is well-oriented.

1.3 How to get there

To be honest, getting to Pannonhalma Archabbey is neither too difficult nor too easy. Because I had an appointment at 9:00, I had to wake up at 5:00 to catch the train from Budapest to Györ and then the bus. There’s no direct train or bus going to Pannonhalma so you have to change in Györ. From Györ, there are two kinds of buses that you can take. (There’s also train going from Györ to Pannonhalma but the station of the latter is rather far away from the abbey so I don’t recommend it.) One goes to the archabbey directly while the other one takes you to the village of Pannonhalma and you need to walk 15 mins uphill to reach the abbey. If you wanna know the schedule of the trains, this is the website that I used to obtain information from and if you wanna know the schedule of the buses, the information provided by Google Maps is quite accurate. As for the tickets, the train tickets are available online (the same website as I mentioned above), from the ticket offices and from the ticket machines and the bus tickets can be bought from the driver directly. After arriving at Pannonhalma Archabbey successfully, let’s start our virtual tour of it.

2. The historic monastic complex

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

First of all, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to TriCollis Booking Office who arranged my visit and to my guide, who gave me a really interesting and in-depth tour to learn about the history and rich culture of Pannonhalma Archabbey. I’m very happy to see that the culture and monastic traditions represented by the archabbey are accessible to us visitors and the natural and landscape values are well preserved without sacrificing or disturbing the everyday life of the “owners”, the monks. Please note that photos are allowed for personal use both inside and outside the complex without flash and unfortunately, because I normally take photos for my blog, I wasn’t able to take any of the interior. What I’d like to emphasize here is that this is my personal blog and I’m not using it for any commercial purposes. Again, thanks to the TriCollis Booking Office who shared their professional photos with me, I am able to show you and introduce to you in detail what you can expect inside the abbey. Now, let’s start from the TriCollis Visitor Center.

2.1 The visitor’s center and entrance

The first stop of your visit should be the visitor center because here you can buy the ticket, rent the audio guide and mostly importantly, obtain a brochure which includes maps of the abbey and village and brief introductions to the monastic life in the old days and today and to the majors sites. Also included in the brochure is the history of the archabbey of a millennium and I find it very useful for grasping the most important moments of it. Based on what’s written in the brochure, now I’ll list them below for you to have a general idea and when I show you around inside the monastery, you will understand more easily which buildings, decorations and furnishings are from which period of time.

  • In 996: Grand Prince Géza (King St. Stephen’s father) settled the monks arriving from Bohemia on the Sacred Hill of Pannnónia.
  • In 1001: King St. Stephen’s Letter of Decree subordinates the monastery directly to the Holy See, giving it more rights and privileges.
  • In 1137: The church, which had previously been destroyed by a fire, was re-consecrated under Abbot David.
  • In 1242: Abbot Uros successfully defended the castle of St. Martin against the Tartars.
  • At the end of 1224: the new basilica was consecrated in the presence of the papal legate and the king’s court.
  • In 1486: King Matthias rebuilt the cloister which gave it its current appearance.
  • From 1514: Pannonhalma became the archabbey of the Benedictine Order of Hungary.
  • In 1586: The monks fled the monastery due to the Turkish occupation.
  • In 1639: After the expulsion of the Turks, the community life started again under Archabbot Mátyás Pálffy.
  • In 1786: Jeseph II banned the order.
  • In 1802: Francis I restored the Benedictine order and emphasized eduction as its primary task.
  • In 1897: The Millennium Monument in Pannonhalma was erected.
  • After 1945: The lands of the order were nationalized and the Benedictine school was closed.
  • In 1950: The grammar school in Györ and Pannonhalma were permitted to re-open.
  • In 1996: Pope John Paul II visited the Archabbey of Pannonhalma and it was declared UNESCO World Heritage.
  • In 2010: VIATOR Abbey Restaurant and Wine Bar was opened, combining tradition and modernity.
  • In 2012: The interior of the basilica was reconstructed based on the design of the English architect, John Pawson.
  • In 2014: The Abbey Museum and Gallery, which hosts two permanent and one temporary exhibitions, was opened in the manor building in the town center. Additionally, visitors can enjoy gastronomy in the PAUSA Abbey Coffee House flavored by herbs from the abbey’s Herbal Garden.
  • In 2016: The Benedictine community, which is under the protection of St. Martin of Tours, celebrated the 1700th anniversary of its patron saint’s birthday with various events throughout the year.

Once we are equipped with this basic knowledge, I believe we can continue our journey. Please remember to enter the complex from the visitor’s entrance, which is around 5-10 mins away by foot from the visitor center. You can find it easily on the map in the brochure.

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

Before entering the basilica, I’d like to draw your attention to the bronze door which was made to welcome Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1996. As you can see from the picture above, the bottom of the door is filled with “evil animals” such as toads serpents etc., which symbolizes hell. The middle part is decorated with plants, flowers and animals such as sheep, parrot, eagle and so on, which symbolizes earth. At the top, you can easily spot a peafowl displaying its tail, which symbolizes heaven. From the back of it, that is to say, from the inside, you will see the “tail” is made up of stained glass fragments of various colors.

2.2 The basilica

Before entering the basilica, I’d like to draw your attention to a picture hanging on the wall depicting Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Can you tell what it is made of if you look at it from some distance? I didn’t notice until I stood right in front of it that it is a mosaic. It is indeed amazing because the movements and the light and shadow effects of both Virgin Mary’s and Jesus’ gowns are so natural that anyone could be fooled to take it as a painting. As I learnt from my guide, thousands of marble pieces were used to create this picture and yet no gap lines between them can be easily noticed. I guess that’s why this picture is called a masterpiece. It’s hard for me to imagine how much effort was needed to solely choose the marble pieces of so many colors to make the picture look so smooth and “intact“. If I remember correctly, it was left to the archabbey by Stéphanie, Crown Princess of Austria, who died here and whose remains were interred here in 1945.

© Pannonhalma Archabbey
© Pannonhalma Archabbey

Finally we are inside the basilica. Just by looking at the two pictures above, what’s your first impression of it? Rather simple, isn’t it? Compared with St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sacré-Cœur Basilica of Paris or Cologne Cathedral, its furnishings and decorations are not that breath-taking. The most recent renovation was done in 2012 based on the design by the British architect John Pawson. In fact, it was the monks’ idea and request to to build such an unadorned church because living by the rules of St. Benedict, they know deep in their heart the importance and preciousness of simplicity. In the pictures above you can’t see the baptismal font, but the font, the altar table as well as the windows in the high altar are made of the same material, white onyx stone, which is said to have healing effects to the senses, e.g. to help one stay concentrated. As explained by my guide, the reason why the font, the table and the windows are made of the same material lies in the symbolic meaning of the invisible line connecting them. If you look through the church from the baptismal font towards the highest window in the high altar, can you see the life path of a Benedictine monk from his baptism to his rising to the heavenly world? As you can see in the first picture in this section, does the daylight filtered by white onyx stone seem like heavenly light to you? So bright, peaceful, smooth and harmonious. The monks appreciate this world but they don’t see it as their final destination. Instead, it is just the first stage of their eternal life in God’s holy realm.

Having learnt about the most recent renovation of the basilica, now let’s take a look at the history of it. In fact, a great part of the present day St. Martin’s Basilica of Pannonhalma was built at the beginning of the 13th century under the reign of Abbot Uros. Recent archaeological research has shed light on the remains of the wall of even earlier constructions. Divided into four parts, the basilica is 50 meters long with three naves and within the building, not only works of the Hungarian masters but also Upper-Rhine and North-French influences can be seen. As I learnt from my guide, the two lower parts are accessible to visitors, the locals as well as the students from the nearby boarding school to attend the Mass while the third part is reserved for the Benedictine monks who live here. The fourth part, the most elevated part, is for hosting the Holy Mass.

During the reign of King Matthias, many parts of the complex were extended, including the church of course. For example, the star-domed ceiling of the sanctuary (it is written as sanctum in the brochure but I assume the author meant sanctuary), the east end of the naves and the St. Benedict Chapel were all built at this time. One particular feature which you might find curious and interesting is the hanging closing stones of the ceiling of the St. Benedict Chapel, which are held by small pillars reinforced from the inside by iron rods fixed in the attic. I’m not sure it was in this chapel or not that some carved flowers can be seen on the rods. It took me quite some time to notice them because as explained by my guide, they were created to be seen from the ceiling and beyond, or in other words, for the eyes of God.

The interior was completely ruined during the Turkish occupation but tombstones of two of the abbots survived, which can still be seen today in the basilica. Significant renovations were carried out in the 1720s during the reign of Archabbot Benedek Sajghó and then in the 1860s under the supervision of Ferenc Storno, an artist and one of the most significant restorers of Sopron in the 19th century. Under the three-aisled choir is the similarly three-aisled crypt and it is accessible to visitors. Now, let’s go in and have a look.

2.3 The crypt

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

The crypt, probably an element of the earlier church on this site, can be accessed from both the right and left side naves of the basilica and its red marble gates were built at the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is a rectangular space covered by cross vaults supported by six pillars and cantilevers, whose heads are decorated with thick budding leaf motifs. Besides the decorations, I’d like to draw your attention to the altar, the tombstone in the middle of the ground and the throne-like seat covered in red marble between the two side stairways.

As the patron saint of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma, St. Martin of Tours’ bone relic is said to be kept here under the altar table. Why was St. Martin of Tours chosen to be the protector of this abbey? I’ll talk more about this saint and his connection to the abbey when I introduce to you the Porta Speciosa in the next section. Can you see the mosaic picture in front of the altar table with the word “PAX“? In fact, you can see the word almost everywhere in this monastery, e.g. on the brochures, on the name tag and uniform of the guides, at the entrance, on the walls etc. I asked my guide and she told me that the Latin word “PAX” means “kiss of peace” in English. I guess these two words, peace and love, are what the Benedictine community or even the whole Christianity is trying to bring to our world and to spread among the people.

In the middle of the ground, as you can see in the picture above, you should see a marble slab engraved with the name, birth and death dates, etc. of Otto von Habsburg, the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1919, a realm which comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. He was the eldest son of Charles I and IV, the last reigning monarch of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Otto von Habsburg’s body was buried in the family’s crypt in Vienna, but his heart was interred here in Pannonhalma Archabbey on 17th July 2011 with only the closest family present. Why is his heart buried here in this monastery? As I read from Wikipedia, Prince Otto was educated by monks from Pannonhalma Benedictine College and as Father Albin, one of the monastery’s monks, said, “Hungary never expelled him personally, and he wanted to be buried in a country which still loves him.”

One last thing you should not miss is the throne-like seat covered in red marble between the two side stairways. It is said that under the red marble is the throne of King St. Stephen but a rumor is after all a rumor. How can King St. Stephen’s throne be kept here if the crypt dates from the 13th century? In reality, its more likely to be an abbot’s throne. My guide told me that if you can sit on it with your back touching its back and your feet touching the ground, you will be a king. I guess this opportunity is only available for those people who are at least 2 meters tall. 🙂

2.4 Porta Speciosa and the cloister

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

Porta Speciosa, which survived and is well-preserved, was built on the site of a former entrance to the south side nave of the church in the 13th century. Its arches rise from five double pillars on each side and three of them (the arches) are richly decorated with carved leaf motifs. As mentioned in the Book of Revelation, Heavenly Jerusalem possesses twelve gates, which are named after the twelve apostles, and Porta Speciosa symbolizes one of them. The monks, when going in for prayer, can enter the church as if they were entering the Heavenly Jerusalem. Because this is the church of a monastic community, the monks enter it from Porta Speciosa which opens from the cloister, instead of from the opening from the outside world in the west façade.

Please take a look at the painting above the doors depicting St. Martin of Tours using his military sword to cut his cloak in two, to give half to a beggar clad only in rags in the cold winter. It is said later that night, Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away and he heard Jesus saying to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” Probably because of his kindness and selflessness, this is the most common way that this saint is portrayed. As the patron saint of the Archabbey of Pannonhalma (and if you still remember, his bone relic is kept in the crypt of the basilica), Martin was born in 316 or 336 AD probably at the foot of this hill (that’s why the hill is also called the Hill of St. Martin) in the Diocese of Pannonia. At the age of ten he attended the Christian church against the wishes of his parents, and became a catechumen. His father was a senior officer in the Roman army and as his son, the 15-year-old Martin was required to join the cavalry. He found the duty incompatible with the Christian faith he had adopted and became an early dedicated objector. Now let’s come back to the painting. Why do you think Martin cut his cloak and gave only half to the beggar instead of the whole one? This somehow reminds me of the dilemma between being selfish and being selfless. Imagine, in an extreme case, what would happen if Martin gave all his cloak to the beggar and he himself was frozen to death? Could the beggar have spread Christianity as Martin did? If not, who stood to gain and who stood to lose? Being selfless and being able to sacrifice have long been considered among the best qualities of mankind but when the moment comes, we really need to evaluate and make our decisions in a bigger picture. In this regard, I totally hold that Martin made a right and wise choice.

© Pannonhalma Archabbey
© Pannonhalma Archabbey
© Pannonhalma Archabbey

King Matthias reserved the abbey for himself in accordance with the traditions of that time and supervised the operation of the monastery. With the income from the lands of the abbey, he rebuilt the former Romanesque cloister in Late Gothic style. When was the construction finished? The year is indicated by the number engraved on the wall next to the corbel on the north-east corner (as you can see form the second picture above). It is obvious that the first number is 1, the third one is 8 and the fourth one is 6. Can you guess what the second number is? Does it look like half of the number 8? Yes, it means the number 4. The cloister was completed in 1486. If you walk around the cloister, another wall behind the wall of the cloister can be seen. If I remember correctly, it was the external wall of the church and it was only discovered in recent studies. An interesting fact about this wall is that it was painted with frescoes and even engraved with the year when the frescoes were finished. Sounds like graffiti of the old times doesn’t it? I was wondering why the paintings of the external church wall were not destroyed when the cloister was being built and the guide told me that there is a small gap between the church wall and the wall of the cloister, which saved the ancient “graffiti”. You might have noticed, if you have an eagle eye, the surviving stones of human faces on the walls (as you can also see from the second picture above), which symbolize the deadly sins. The figures of wrath, sloth, lust and gluttony (depicted with a fat baby face) can easily be recognized.

The doors and windows were given their present form in the 1880s and the stained glass windows depict the Fourteen Stations of the Cross (as you can see from the third picture above). The fourteen stations are:

  • Pilate condemns Jesus to die
  • Jesus accepts his cross
  • Jesus falls for the first time
  • Jesus meets his mother, Mary
  • Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross
  • Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  • Jesus falls for the second time
  • Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  • Jesus falls for the third time
  • Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  • Jesus is nailed to the cross
  • Jesus dies on the cross
  • Jesus is taken down from the cross
  • Jesus is placed in the tomb

The inner garden (which can not really be seen clearly because the windows are not really see-through), which is enclosed by the cloister corridor, is called the Paradise Garden (Paradisum) and was planted with herbs. The water-collecting tank (considering the garden was built on the top of the hill, there is no well) can still be seen today. This garden testifies to one of the main tasks of the monks, which is to heal the sick and to take care of them.

You might think that the cloister is just a place for monks to pass through to reach the church, the refectory and the garden. In fact, it is not the case. The cloister is not only a place for everyday traffic but also that of meditation and prayer. In the Middle Ages, this was not only the most important point where the monks gathered for liturgies but also the location for processions.

Now let’s exit the cloister and enter the library.

2.5 The library

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

In order to give you an overview of the library, I’ll introduce it from three aspects, that is to say, its collection, the building and its archives. According to a certificate from the era of St. László (around 1090), by the end of the 11th century, 80 volumes which include approximately 200 works were registered in Pannonhalma. Please note each volume contains more than one “book” and at that time, which is about 1000 thousand years ago, 200 “books” are really a lot.  In 1786, when the order was dismissed, the collection reached the amount of more than 4000 volumes. The accelerated enlargement of the collection started when the Hungarian king Francis I restored the order and made education the most important activity of the monks. The commitment to tutorial duties at school contributed to the acquisition of a large variety of books related to literature, science and so on. Currently, the library has dozens of codices and around three hundred incunabula in addition to four hundred thousand books.

Because of the enlargement of the collection since 1802, a modern library was needed. The foundation stone was laid in 1825 and the longitudinal hall was designed by Ferenc Engel. From 1832, an oval room was built based on the design of János Páckh. The frescoes as well as the two gypsum statues of King St. Stephen and King Francis I, who restored the order are the works by Josef Klieber of Vienna. On the four sides of the oval hall’s ceiling, the allegories of the four medieval university faculties can be seen: Law, Theology, Medicine and Arts. As for the longitudinal hall, the main figure in the ceiling fresco is Minerva, the Greek Goddess of Science and on the two short walls, portraits of ancient Graeco-Roman philosophers and scientists can be seen while on the long walls portraits of outstanding figures of Hungarian history can be found.

© Pannonhalma Archabbey

I still remember the guide told me that though the previous library of the abbey and its books were destroyed a few times in history, the archives have been well preserved. I was joking that “it sounds like the archives were more important than the library.” Anyway, thanks to the careful handling, the largest part of the early charters have been preserved. The archives are just as old as the monastery itself and within its walls are kept the handwritten documents related to the institutions, operation and management of the Archabbey and of the Benedictine Order in Hungary. Therefore, one of the riches and most valuable collections of charters from the first centuries of the Hungarian state is kept in Pannonhalma. The oldest piece of this collection is King St. Stephen’s letter of decree dating back to 1001 and it announced the official establishment of the abbey and gave it many rights and privileges. As shown in the picture above, King St. Stephen’s signature (as told by my guide, King St. Stephen probably just signed one line of his signature) can be seen in this royal charter. However, on display is just a facsimile because the original document was written on sheep skin and is extremely fragile. Another very important document, whose facsimile is also on display here, is the foundation letter of the Tihany Abbey issued in 1055. Fitted in Latin text, it is the oldest written example of the Hungarian language. I am a very curious person and I asked my guide why the foundation letter of the Tihany Abbey is kept in the Archabbey of Pannonhalma? It turns out during the Turkish occupation, the monks of the Tihany Abbey felt the Archabbey of Pannonhalma was a safer place and they transferred this precious letter here for protection. Since then, the letter has been kept in the archives. Besides these two important charters, the first papal document in Hungary, which is the Bull of Pope Paschalis II written in 1102, and many other documents are also stored here.

By now I have finished introducing to you the parts of the historic monastic complex which are open to visitors. However, our trip doesn’t end here. As the title of this post indicates, not only the abbey but also its surroundings are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Now, let’s visit the arboretum and the herbal garden, the history of which dates back to the foundation of the abbey.

3. The arboretum and herbal garden

As commented by the UNESCO:

Both the forest and the botanic garden are seen as illustrating the landscape value of the region as a whole and also to set off the aesthetic values of the man-made element represented by the buildings of the monastery.

The arboretum, or the forest, on the east slopes of the Pannonhalma landscape is largely the traditional oak forest of this region. The history of it dates back to the foundation of the abbey and therefore, this is the first known historical Hungarian garden. In 1830, as many as 80 tree and bush species could be found on the abbey’s lands and the current arboretum was designed by Fábián Szeder in the 1840s. Today, several hundred tree and bush species can be found here, some of which are very rare in Hungary. What’s more, the existence of one hundred and fifty bird species is also officially recorded. I recommend you having a walk here because as you can see from the picture above, the environment and atmosphere are quite relaxing.

As for the herbal garden, since ancient times, the monks living here have been growing and collecting herbs to take care of the sick. Numerous recipes of Benedictine pharmacists and doctors who lived in Pannonhalma in the 17th and 18th centuries have survived and are still being used today for the production of various medicinal products. Talking about these products, I’d like to mention Officina Sancti Martini, the herbal workshop of the archabbey. It uses the extracts of the plants grown in the gardens to create herbal products and to promote the Benedictine traditions of monastic healing. In and around the abbey, there are three official shops selling handmade cosmetic and gastronomic products of this workshop. I bought some balm for bug bites and they smell really nice. I guess if you wanna buy some souvenirs for your family or friends, these organic products would be the best choices.

As shown in the pictures above, Lavender is the best-known herb of the Pannonhalma Archabbey. The semi-shrub originating from the coast of the Mediterranean sea was first introduced by Father Bonifác Lancsics in the 17th century. Lavender oil here is very special because it is produced in the abbey’s own rectifier (as you can see from the third picture above) using the plants grown in its own garden. As you might have known, lavender can be consumed for soothing and stress relieving purposes and if its concentration is applied externally, it can treat burns, skin rash or insect stings.

4. Other attractions around the abbey

Some other attractions or sites around the abbey include:

the grammar school (as you can see in the first picture above): The Archabbey of Pannonhalma is also called Hungary’s most ancient educational institution. Traditions of education date back to 996 and King St. Stephen brought his son, Prince Imre, to the monastery too. The school building that we see nowadays is relatively new and the school itself is one of the leading ones in Hungary. More than three hundred students, from nearby, the other end of the country or even from the world, are studying here. What do you think the students learn here? Only religion? In fact, the classes are from grades 7 to 12 and the students can choose from 10 sports, 12 languages and many different afternoon or music activities. One difference of this school from many other secondary schools is that the students can take part in the spiritual life of the abbey. Also worth noting is that this school, which reopened in 1950 after nationalization, is one of the eight Catholic grammar schools which survived the years of communism in Hungary.

the Chapel of Our Lady: The construction of Our Lady Chapel and the crypt beneath began in 1714 by Archabbot Celesztin Göncz, who was also the first to have been buried here. Originally it was a place of worship for the non-native population living within the vicinity of the abbey. The crypt has been the final resting place of the monks up to today. Unfortunately, the interior is not accessible to visitors.

the Millennium Monument: In order to celebrate the millennium of the Magyars’ settlement in 896, seven monuments were erected in the Carpathian Basin in 1896 commemorating the seven Hungarian tribes. One of them can be found here in Pannonhalma. Previously a calvary was standing here but during the millennium celebration, it was moved to the west side of the Chapel of Our Lady. Unfortunately, the interior is also not accessible to visitors. As I learnt from the brochure, the monument was originally surmounted by a 26-meter high double-shell dome with a huge brass relief representing the Hungarian royal crown, but due to severe deterioration, it had to be removed in 1937-1938.

the Abbey Museum and Gallery: the Abbey Museum and Gallery is situated in the archabbey’s manor building from the 18th century in the center of the town and you can see it clearly from the platform close to the visitor’s entrance of the monastery (as you can see in the second picture above). Within this building, two permanent and one temporary exhibitions are hosted and the collections include paintings, sculptures, dozens of metalwork and textile and ceramic artefacts. One of the permanent exhibitions hosts the Medieval lapidary collection while the other one is called the “Vineyard of Pannonia“. The latter demonstrates the history of monastic viticulture and winemaking in eight parts in a 450-meter-long cellar. For me personally, I didn’t visit the museum but the view of the archabbey from the yard is very nice. My featured picture of this post was taken here. If you have some free time, why not enjoying the gastronomic treats of the PAUSA Abbey Coffee House. I heard that they are flavored by the herbs from abbey’s herbal garden.

the VIATOR Abbey Restaurant and Wine Bar: The restaurant was opened in 2010 combining modern gastronomy with Benedictine tradition and the wine bar offers primarily products from the Abbey Winery. They are located very close to the TriCollis Visitor Center but unfortunately when I was there, they were closed…

the Abbey Winery: In the last decade, the abbey tried to revive the Benedictine viticultural traditions and the winery was built at the at the south-east foot of St. Martin’s Hill, benefiting from the topography to process grapes and to age wine. It produces 300,000 bottles annually and as I mentioned above, if you join a guided tour of the winery, you will have the option to taste 3, 5, or 7 different kinds of wines.


Now I have finished introducing to you the Archabbey of Pannonhalma and its surroundings and I hope you have learnt something about its history, tradition and culture. What I’d like to remind you of is that this is an active monastery and a place of faith and devotion. Respect should be the priority during your visit whether you’re religious or not. I have been to quite some monasteries such as the Monastery of St. Johann in Müstair, the St. Gallen Monastery and the Monastic Island of Reichenau, which are all inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list, and I’m really enchanted by the architectural and decorative beauty and cultural and spiritual richness of them. I hope as the symbol of the archabbey suggests (PAX with five hearts), you life will be filled with peace and love.

Millenary Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma and its Natural Environment was last modified: May 24th, 2018 by Dong

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