Hadmar I. of Kuenring founded Zwettl Monastery after the Mother of God had shown the place of foundation by means of an oak tree greening in winter. Zwettl still has an exemplary cultural landscape character, which is ideally depicted in the foundation book of the early 14th century as a circuit with the monastery as the centre – surrounded by a ring of granges. The landscape is characterised by pond farming and silviculture.
In the beginning was – the place. Because the place where the Zwettl Monastery was founded on New Year’s Day in 1138 had, so to speak, been determined by the highest authority: the Mother of God, Mary, had promised the founder Hadmar I von Kuenring and the first abbot of Zwettl, Hermann that an oak green in winter would indicate where to build the new monastery. The miracle – because the night vision was to come true – remained alive in the mind of Stift Zwettl: both in the late Gothic high altar from 1526 and in its successor from 1732, there is a carved oak tree with a cross in the green tree crown, an element of the Landscape integrated into the solemn architecture of the collegiate church.
The name “Zwettl” itself is closely linked to the landscape. Derived from the Slavic (“svetlá”), he refers to a “light valley”, as is also expressed in the Latin transmission from Zwettl: “Clara vallis” (a name that represents a reference to the Clairvaux primary abbey). )
The strong relationship between the monastery and the landscape – right from the start – expresses the pictorial representation of the “transition”.
The artistic basis was the medieval form of the “Mappa mundi”, the world map: as an ideal landscape, the monastery and its surroundings become a symbol of a godly order in which the monastery church takes the place of Jerusalem (and thus the place of the resurrection of Jesus) .
In the 18th century, the relationship between the abbey building and the landscape was redefined by the construction of the church tower. The magnificent architecture of Matthias Steinl, which is one of the central masterpieces of the Austrian Baroque, impresses not only with its striking dominance in the middle of the surrounding forests. The material itself, granite, has also been cleverly used to achieve a harmonious, unobtrusive correspondence between architecture and landscape.
Text: Andreas Gamerith