775: Foundation of the monastery of St. John in Müstair

Archaeological research backs up legendary tradition

According to legend the monastery of St. John in Müstair was founded by Charlemagne. The story tells us that as he travelled over the Umbrail pass between Bormio and Santa Maria, following his coronation as king of the Lombards, he was caught in a snowstorm but came away unharmed and vowed to found a monastery. Archaeological research backs up the core element of the legend; the timbers found in the original masonry were felled in 775, one year after Charlemagne’s coronation as king of the Lombards.

 

Müstair as a strategic base and religious centre

Müstair was an important base for the expansion policy of the Frankish monarch. But Charlemagne did not just found the monastery for strategic purposes; he also wanted to revive art, culture and religious activities in his empire.

The monastery was a religious centre and a role model for monastic life according to the Rule of St. Benedict. In addition it was also a hospice, providing accommodation for travellers journeying to the Valtellina, Tyrol and Engadine. It also served the Bishop of Chur as a secondary residence south of the Alps and administration centre for his secular governance.

For over 1200 years the spirituality of the Benedictine community has dwelt within the monastery walls

According to a manuscript from St. Gall, there were 45 monks in the monastery in the mid-9th century. The community soon declined however, and in the mid-12th century the monks were replaced by nuns. It is possible that the monks relocated to the Marienberg monastery in the neighbouring Vinschgau (South Tyrol). Since that time the monastery in Müstair has been inhabited by nuns. The Benedictine motto “ora et labora et lege” has now been followed daily within the religious community of St. John the Baptist in Müstair for over 1200 years.