Benedictine Convent of St. John in Müstair

Founded by Charlemagne

According to legend Charlemagne was travelling over the Umbrail Pass, having been crowned as King of the Lombards, when he was caught in a snowstorm. He came away unharmed and in gratitude founded the convent of St. John; the stucco statue in the church is a testimony to this. Built originally as a monastery, the complex has housed a convent of nuns since the 12th century. Since its foundation over 1200 years ago, the convent has always been lived in.

Müstair – the convent

Müstair is the easternmost village in Switzerland. The valley, which bears the same name – Val Müstair – opens towards the Venosta valley in South Tyrol. The local language is Romansh; the village name Müstair is the Romansh equivalent of Minster in English, both of which correspond to the Latin “monasterium” or monastery. Thus it can be said that the village and the valley take their name from the convent.

1200 years of building history

In its over 1200 years of existence the convent was never completely destroyed and always only partially altered.  The building complex we see today is a conglomeration of buildings of varying styles and different eras that fit together and intermingle. The church and chapel of the Holy Cross date from the time of the foundation (8th century). The 10th century Planta tower and the 11th century bishop’s residence are just two further examples of architectural highlights in the convent complex.

UNESCO World Heritage

In 1983 the Convent of St. John in Müstair was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. At that time the convent complex had fallen into disrepair. Sr. Pia Willi, the convent’s prioress from 1986-2013, remembers that the roofs leaked and that whenever it rained the nuns had to use buckets to catch the water. She and her fellow sisters were quite astonished when the convent was designated a World Heritage Site. It must be said that since as early as 1969 the Pro Kloster St. Johann in Müstair Foundation had been striving to take care of the restoration and maintenance of the complex.

The determining factor for the convent’s inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List was the presence of the wall paintings in the convent church - the largest and best preserved cycle of medieval frescoes. Over the years, and thanks to archaeological research, further building history showpieces have been discovered: the Planta tower (the oldest fortified residential tower in the Alps), the Carolingian chapel of the Holy Cross, the Romanesque bishop’s residence, to name just the most important.

Benedictines, Archaeologists, Foundation and Museum

The convent of St. John in Müstair is not only special because of its architecture, its wall paintings, archaeological discoveries and convent treasures. Its uniqueness lies also in the fascinating combination of cloister life, cultural heritage, museum, research and restoration.