The Heiligenkreuz Abbey
The stones we walked today have been ambled on, walked on, run on, shuffled on, stumbled on or tripped over for 922 years. This monastery was first established in 1133, almost a thousand years ago. Whenever I am in such a place I have a sense of awe. What if these stones could talk? The stories they could tell of good and bad times and of times in between. Times of war. Times of peace. And, most horrific of all, in my mind, during the Black Plague when up to one third of all Europeans died quickly but miserably of this terrible disease. Just as in every village and city we have visited in Central and Eastern Europe there is a Plague Memorial at the Abbey.
Our friends live only a mile or so from the Cistercian Heiligenkreuz Abby, within easy walking distance. It is located in the southern Vienna Woods in the village of Heiligenkreuz and is the oldest Cistercian monastery in continuous use in the world.
We joined the early morning group touring the abbey, a group from a variety of countries including Germany, Croatia, England and, of course, the US.
At one point our guide said, "Now we will go to the cold Middle Ages." She explained that she called it cold as the monks had no heat during the winter at that time. It was not that they could not build a fire or needed fires ... it was because their big boss, who lived somewhere in Southern Europe would not give them permission to have heat in their rooms. Being obedient they were cold, miserable and as our guide said, "died like flies." Well, today was a warm sunny day and still it was cold inside these stone walls. My thought was that there is nothing surprising in their "dying like flies" as the cold had to have been most miserable. After all, winter in the lower mountains of Austria is cold and snowy. I fear if I had been a monk I either would have violated orders and built a fire or have left the order looking for a cabin or even a poor hut where at least I could have some semblance of warmth.
I was intrigued by a fountain in the abbey. Water has flowed from it so long that
minerals have built up giving it a cave like appearance with stalagmites forming on its rim.
The Pugnacious ................
In one of the rooms there is the stone sarcophagus holding the remains of a man who lived centuries and centuries ago. I cannot remember his first name other than that the term the pugnacious had been added to his name. So let's say his name was Reinhardt and thus he became Reinhardt the Pugnacious. Personally I would not like to think that I would be known forever after as Bill the pugnacious. Wouldn't it be better to be known as Bill the agreeable? OK, OK, now someone is going to tell me that they have been calling me the pugnacious for years. Oh well .............
Noon time prayers.............
We attended the noon prayer service which is held in the form of Gregorian Chant. The day we visited the sanctuary was more than half full of people. Once all the visitors were seated the monks filed in and sat on either side of the sanctuary near the altar. I noticed the monks ranged in age from young to quite elderly. The acoustics, as seems to be always
true in these old stone churches, was outstanding. After the service was over each person was given a printed post card with a photo of the monks on one side and on the other a note saying they are praying for each person who attends their services.
Heiligrenkreuz is about 6 miles west of the spa town of Baden. This is a beautiful region in Austria and made me think of the beautiful mountains in West Virginia and Vermont.
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