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Art & Culture

Salzburg’s spiritual retreats

The members of the city’s various religious orders regard their monastery or convent garden as a private refuge. Only rarely do outsiders get to see these hidden spots. These claustra (places of seclusion) – the word from which we derive the word cloister – are their personal oases of quiet reflection. That said, every now and then they do allow us a brief glimpse, simultaneously sharing their knowledge and showing us some of their treasures. One of those occasions is the so-called “Open Garden Day”, which a number of abbeys participate in. Dates and locations are announced well in advance.

For Sociable Visitors

At the Franciscan Monastery on Franziskanergasse, you will sit at beautifully set tables beneath apple trees, sample homemade cakes and syrups, and strike up quiet conversations. With fellow visitors, but also with the monks. One particularly dedicated member of their order is Brother Beda. His devotion is to the poor, to artists, and to the garden through which he leads you in his characteristically modest and unassuming way. In a gentle voice, he recounts stories, such as how the relief of St. Francis and St. Clare we see on the wall was created, and how he unexpectedly discovered a smile on the lips of the saint. “Sharing the beauty of this garden is something very Franciscan”, he says.

For Inquisitive Visitors

The Pallottines on the Mönchsberg are also very open when it comes to their garden. Though it is actually more like a small park surrounded by the walls of the Johannesschlössl. The relationship with nature here is very relaxed. If anything chooses to put down roots here, it is welcomed. And that attitude also extends to people. Seminarians of the past, students and seekers of peace and wisdom today, all embraced by the soothing hospitality of director Ursula Schock, and intrigued by the virtually inexhaustible font of knowledge about the city’s landmarks far below that is Father Alois Schwarzfischer. Many guests return, take a seat beneath the sundial and the motto “Tua Lux Mea Lex” (“Your light is my law“), look out at the black cattle grazing on the neighboring meadow, and sense the wind wafting through the chestnut trees.

For Romantic Visitors

It would probably never occur to anyone standing in front of the monastery gates that the Capuchins, living atop the Kapuzinerberg, might also have a garden of their own. But directly behind that gate, endowed with glorious views of the Old City and fortress, lies the realm of Brother Norbert. A native of Switzerland and cabinetmaker by profession, he wrests fertile ground one small shovelful at a time from the sparse terrain, planting grape vines and peach trees. More could still be done, he feels, but he also has to ration out his energy in appropriate measure. Originally, he only assumed the “role” of gardener on a temporary basis; though he is now already in his fifth year of husbanding this small corner of the Earth. “I love working for this fellowship, and I look forward to the arrival of every spring”, he says.

For Respite-Seeking Visitors

It is rather rare for the Benedictines of St. Peter’s Arch-Abbey to permit a glance into their garden. “It belongs to the monks, for them to read, walk and reflect”, says prior Father Virgil. From every point of the Romanesque cloister, you have a different view of the fruit trees, the dolphin fountain or roses in bloom. No worldly sound penetrates through or over the walls. The only exception: “We can hear the Salzburger Stier rather well.” This organ at the fortress sounds out every day at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. It isn’t rare for Father Virgil to pull out his smartphone to capture some of the ineffable moods of nature, such as when a thunderstorm gathers above the fortress. “For us, nature is good and something precious for which we bear responsibility”, says Father Virgil.

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