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Stift Sankt Florian (St. Florian Monastery) is a stunning monastery located in the town of Sankt Florian. This stunning monastery was first founded in the 9th century and it is the largest monastery in Upper Austria.
Although most people head to Melk Abbey for baroque architecture and frescos, St. Florian is a less crowded alternative with all of the same appeal and even more. In this guide to the St. Florian Monastery, I’ll provide an overview of what to expect for your visit, how to get to the monastery, and highlights of the visit for non-German speakers.
- Melk Abbey versus St. Florian Monastery
- Who was St. Florian?
- History of St. Florian Monastery
- What to expect from guided tours at St. Florian
- Highlights of visiting St. Florian Monastery: the organ, library, ossuary, basilica, Altdorfer gallery, Imperial apartments, and courtyard.
- Other notes on St. Florian Monastery
- Visiting St. Florian Monastery by car or public transit
Why you need to visit St. Florian Monastery
While in Austria, I had the luxury of time. Although I strongly considered visiting Melk Abbey, I heard from other visitors that it was overrun by tour buses on day trips from Vienna, which soured their experience considerably. The locals that I met in the Upper Austria region encouraged me to head to St. Florian Monastery, which was their favorite regional monastery as it has perfectly preserved baroque architecture without the crowds, just off A1.
Unlike at Melk, where you must arrive early to avoid the crowds, you’re able to come to St. Florian (for now) without much planning and the crowds were far from a problem. If anything, it’s shocking the monastery is so empty considering its stunning baroque library. We came just five minutes before the tour scheduled to start at eleven and it went off without a hitch.
The tickets were 9.50 euros for an hour guided tour that showed the highlights of the monastery although you can pay three extra euros to see the Imperial apartments. Similarly, if you are lucky enough to come in time for an organ concert, you can combine your tour with listening to the famous Bruckner organ for 12.50 euros.
Who was St. Florian?
We need to start off first discussing St. Florian, the namesake of the monastery, who is buried underneath the church. St. Florian was a Roman commander who converted to Christianity and was drowned for his beliefs in the nearby Enns river. He known as the patron saint of firefighters and floods, which why is there’s a firefighter museum on the grounds of the monastery. He is buried underneath the modern day basilica.
Although there has been a church there for many years, much of the modern-day baroque complex dates back to the period between 1686 and 1750, when majority of the buildings that stand today were built by multiple architects.
Guided tours (in English and other languages) at St. Florian Monastery
Between May and October, there are guided tours available to the public multiple times a day. We caught the 11am tour without much planning and I encourage you to check the website for hours for updated information. We were able to pay with a credit card.
The tour is only in German and our guide did not speak any English. Luckily, there are headsets available in English as well as other languages. Despite the language barrier, some kind Austrians were helpful enough to translate parts of the longer stories that were not included on the audio guides. (It was very clear that our guide was very knowledgeable, but the language barrier was a continual source of frustration for us.) Our tour group was approximately ten people.
Even if you visit outside of the main season, you can visit the basilia between 7am and 6pm generally. There are Catholic services held in the church and the monastery is open later in the summer. Even if you do not speak German, it is worth taking the tour in order to tour the grounds.
Highlights of visiting the St. Florian Monastery
The abbey library
One of the primary reasons that I had to visit St. Florian was to see the perfectly preserved library. Amazingly, this beautiful baroque library has never needed to be restored. Inside, over 130,000 religious books and manuscripts are beautifully stored inside although there’s another library holding the rest. The ceiling is a stunning baroque fresco painted by Bartolomeo Altomonte.
Visitors are restricted to a cordoned off area, however photos without flash are allowed in the room for now. We were given at least fifteen minutes simply to enjoy the room after the door was unlocked by our guide and we were told about the history. Unfortunately, it is not possible to go up to the second story with a conventional tour group, but it is still a stunning baroque library worth visiting.
The abbey courtyard
The abbey courtyard has multiple tours, including a beautiful Baroque doorway that visitors will enter through. Our tour began next to the Fountain of the Eagle, pictured above.
The entertaining hall (south wing)
Although not included on most of the itineraries, the southern wing of the monastery is absolutely stunning. Today, it’s used as an event space. In the past, it was used by Austrian royalty and without a doubt, this stunning hall filled with pink marble is likely to impress anyone who walks through it.
The Altdorfer Gallery
Although I absolutely love Gothic art, I had not realized that the St. Florian Monastery was home to so many works of art. As you walk throughout the southern wing, you will see numerous late-Gothic stained glass panels. Unfortunately, much of the gothic church is gone today otherwise.
Although the basilica is thoroughly baroque, Albrecht Altdorfer, a painter from Regensburg, was brought to paint the altar of the Gothic church at the time. Although the panels were taken down once the baroque church was completed and much of the altar (including the sculptures) is lost to history, twelve panels remain in the Altdorfer Gallery today.
Within the panels, you can see how he adapted several biblical stories to appear to be taking place within Austria at the time. There are several other masterpieces by Dutch, Flemish, Italian, and Austrian painters within this room, however the explanation was in German only.
The Imperial apartments
We ended up skipping the imperial apartments as it was extra and it was very unclear on whether we would understand the tour. The photos were beautiful and reminiscent of a baroque palace. If my German improves,
The St. Florian monastery basilica
The organ at St. Florian monastery basilica
The basilica is likely to impress anyone, regardless of how many churches they’ve seen. Within the church, you’ll find marble, elaborate stucco, and black marble around the pulpit. On the guided tour, you’ll have approximately 5-10 minutes to enjoy the basilica.
The real reason to visit the basilica, which is generally open to the public for viewings as well as services, is to see the famous Bruckner organ. Anton Bruckner was a famous Austrian composer who served as an organist for the monastery for about a decade. (There are daily organ concerts in the summer, except on Saturdays)
The organ was built in 1774 and it is one of the most unique organs in Austria as well as one of the largest working organ In Austria. There are over 7,000 pipes as well as 103 registers.
The Ossuary at Stift Sankt Florian
The ossuary underneath the cathedral is one of the most interesting places that we visited in Austria. Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was sent to the monastery after his father’s death. He loved paying the stunning organ upstairs and served as the organist for the basilica for many years.
I was luckily enough to hear the famous organ played upstairs while in the catacombs and it seemed appropriate to bury him underneath where you can still hear it echoing. His tomb is extremely elaborate, however the feature that I didn’t expect was the ossuary that included the bones of 6,000 early Christians dating back to 1250.
One of the highlights (and most comedic moments of our tour) was being kept in the ossuary while waiting for the elaborate wedding upstairs to be let out without being interrupted by our tour group. We certainly heard the organ from the ossuary although standing around a dark ossuary.
Interestingly enough, the ossuary is actually at the same level as the garden outside as when the large cathedral above was built, some adjustments needed to be made in order to accommodate the weight of the ceiling.
Other notes about St. Florian
If you are a lover of Trappist products, you can purchase beer from Stift Engelszell, the only Trappist monastery in Austria, at their shop. (Stift Engelszell is a feasible day trip from Linz!) A number of products produced at other Austrian monasteries are sold here.
There’s also a restaurant for those interested in having a typical Austrian meal or simply getting a drink at Stiftskeller Sankt Florian. The village surrounding the monastery is fairly small, so this is a good choice for day trippers.
Visiting the abbey by car and public transit
We were able to park just outside of the parking for free although navigating the village by car is a bit tricky as there are a number of one-way roads.
From Linz, it’s possible to take Bus 410 towards Sierning with stopping off at St. Florian. The journey should take about thirty minutes and the bus runs approximately every thirty minutes. (Bring cash for the bus.)
If you’re interested in staying overnight at the monastery, they have a modest guesthouse on site although the bells are supposedly so loud that many complain about their quality of sleep. There are a number of hotels in Sankt Florian, including Landhotel St. Florian, for those seeking a traditional Austrian guesthouse experience.