St. Gall is linked today with high quality embroideries used for haute couture. But it is also a beautiful town with a long history and a picturesque city centre. At its centre stands the magnificent monastery of St. Gall with its cathedral and library.
St Gall is linked today with high quality embroideries used for haute couture. But it is also a beautiful town with a long history and a picturesque city centre. At its centre stands the magnificent monastery of St Gall with its cathedral and library.
St Gall the monastery was founded in 719 and was named after the Irish saint St Gall who had lived as a hermit nearby. Its founder was designated abbot by the king of the Francs and the pope decreed that the monks would choose their abbot themselves without recourse to Rome. The monastery existed to 1805 when all monasteries in Switzerland were secularised. But the Bishop of St Gall is chosen to this day by the local governing body of the church and then mailed to Rome for confirmation but not approval.
From its earliest days the monastery had two schools attached, one for future monks and one for the sons of the local nobility and rich merchants. On his visit, Pope Gregory IV (died 844) was so impressed by schools and pupils that he decreed a special holiday to be held for children, which is still an official holiday in town with a great procession in which only children may take part. Town and monastery were burnt down 926 by the Huns and 937 again by accident.
In 947 the abbot was made a prince by the German emperor. His power was absolute, but waned over the centuries as the inhabitants of the city acquired more freedom and rights. When the abbey lost its hold on the county of Appenzell which had become a member of the Swiss Confederation in 1411, the abbot called on the citizens of town and county to help him regain Appenzell. Instead of which they joined the Swiss Confederation as well and bought their freedom from the German king.
The town later joined the Reformed Church which made a Catholic island of the monastery at its midst. After the Napoleonic wars, St Gall regained its freedom and was then swallowed up in the new Swiss state. At that point it lost any political influence. It remains an important Catholic center, though, especially as the Holy See has no influence over the choice of its bishop. St Gall is today the seat of the Swiss High Court for Administrative Law.
St Gall became a centre for linen production in the 17th century. St Gall became at that point a byword for the highest quality linen that could be bought. When linen demand sank, St Gall was already established as a centre for embroidery that endures today. To commemorate St Gall embroidery, Swiss Postal Services issued the first embroidered stamp in the world. Its face value is five Francs and covered the charge for registered mail. It´s one of the few modern stamps whose value has gone up by at least a factor 100 on its face value.
The language spoken in town is Alemannic. The rest of Switzerland makes fun of the local dialect because it has lost vowel sounds as in bow or how and replaced it by an o as in stork. This language shift makes the use of certain words quite confusing for other Alemannic speakers. The most well known inhabitant was King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden who spent his exile years in town up to his death in 1837.
Besides the cathedral a visit to the monastery library is a must. The library owns over 600 books written and illustrated before the year 900. Apart from that, the town houses an excellent museum for embroidery whose exhibits show how well known pictures were adapted for embroidery. The town is also known as the city of bay windows. I was told there were 111 bay windows of historical significance.