The Abbey Library and More

I love reading and, by extension, books and libraries likewise rank high on my ‘Nice‘ list. While nailing down finer details for this trip, a fortuitous encounter with an online article about the most beautiful libraries in the world had me completely enthralled, in particular the Abbey Library of Saint Gall. I feel compelled to visit, given that it is a brief hour train ride from Zurich.

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Regrettably, I failed to check the damage to be done to our pockets till the actual day, when I was well and truly dismayed to learn that it cost a whooping 120CHF for 2 adult return tickets. It wasn’t unaffordable, but was it worth the splurge for a day trip? I asked the mister to grant me some time while I lingered around the massive Zurich Hauptbahnhof main hall, fretting over a resolution that had to be made soon. The agony was real.

Seeing how I was struggling to arrive at a decision, the ever-doting mister made up his mind. He marched up to a ticket booth and bought the tickets before I realised what he was doing. Next thing I knew, we were running to board our train to St. Gallen.

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St. Gallen (traditionally known as St. Gall) is located to the north-eastern region of Switzerland near to Austria and is the gateway to the Appenzell Alps. This once-hermitage isn’t typically on travellers’ radar since the only significant tourist attraction is the Abbey Library, which, together with the Abbey, are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In light of our recent experience in Bratislava (of not being able to find a shop that sells stamps so we can mail out our postcard), the first place we tried to locate upon arriving in St. Gallen was the post office. We were in luck; the main post office is prominently located diagonally across the road from the train station.

We spent some time in the post office writing our postcard, hoping the overcast sky would ease up. To our disappointment, the treacherous weather persisted; it rained most of the time while we were walking about the city centre.

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Seeking a short respite from the rain, we ran into a shop situated within a standalone building, only to realise that we’d unwittingly found the Tourist Centre. Given that we didn’t research much on St. Gallen, this accidental discovery truly came in handy.

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While we knew The Cathedral and Abbey of St. Gall was right across from the Tourist Centre, we didn’t know how to enter it. The staff at the Centre very helpfully pointed us in the right direction. Reverently, we quietly walked into the cathedral. And what a splendid Baroque interior! Being somewhat different from the more prosaic Gothic-styled church interiors we’d come across, it was a refreshing change and the wet weather was momentarily forgotten as we basked in the tranquil sanctity of the church.

Taking a few steps down the main aisle, we sat down and I quietly said a few Hail Marys while enjoying the peace and quiet. After devoting some moments to quiet contemplation, I decided it was time to take our leave. We left as quietly and reverently as we came, then went looking for the beautiful Abbey Library.

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We’d had the privilege of visiting some well-protected monuments and buildings but I would dare say none has come close to how Abbey Library is being protected. Following our buying the tickets, we had to first keep all our bags and cameras in lockers. Subsequently at the entrance (it was simply a standing manned booth), we were given audio guides and were also instructed to slip felt slippers over our shoes to protect the wooden floor.

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To be able to see one of the greatest Medieval library for myself, was such a feast for my eyes. In pictures that I googled and found online, everything looked so… postured. The books looked like they couldn’t be flipped, like those fake ones we see on display at IKEA. But no, they are all real. Authentic. I can attest to that. We saw for ourselves that these books have pages that can be flipped (albeit with much care) and contain written material when a member of the staff removed some of the books from the shelves in the upper floor, presumably for maintenance.

There were chairs inconspicuously placed at many corners of the Ricoco-styled library room. I took one of the chairs and sat there for a spell, completely in awe of the sight in front of me. The library collection in the room is one of the oldest found in Switzerland and the oldest book/manuscript dates way back to the 8th century. That’s an awesome total of over 1,200 years we are talking about here. What I would give to flip through one of these books. 😀

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As we were leaving the library room, we saw a huge group of boisterous teenage boys running down the stairs into outdoors. Feeling puzzled, we walked into the souvenir cum bookshop and asked about the scene we just witnessed. It was there that we discovered a boys’ middle school is located within the Abbey compound. Ahh… that explains why there were so many boys running about. We must have happened to have walked out when they were just released for their lunch break.

We made our way down to the Lapidarium where there was an exhibition on the construction and architectural history of the Abbey. The display notes were not in English, and by then we were simply too tired to go through another round of audio guide. After a quick browse, we went on our way.

It was pouring again. Such a letdown; we were unable to further explore the city in detail. Since there was still some time before our return train to Zurich, we chilled out in Starbucks for a bit.

The train ride back to Zurich was uneventful, but we saw fallen snow along the way in Winterthur. I wistfully hoped that Zurich might have snowed or might be snowing too. It was not meant to be. Zurich was not snowing but raining heavily. 😦

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