Christian examples of conventual’s architecture in general do not raise a claim for a dominant position. Edifices of Benedictines are exceptions of this rule. One of the most splendid examples is the compound of the monastery of Einsiedeln. As one of Europe’s most significant monasteries Einsiedeln matches the demand of architectonic monumentality and spiritual expression.


Christian examples of conventual’s architecture in general do not raise a claim for a dominant position. Edifices of Benedictines are exceptions of this rule. One of the most splendid examples is the compound of the monastery of Einsiedeln. As one of Europe’s most significant monasteries Einsiedeln matches the demand of architectonic monumentality and spiritual expression.

In past centuries the monastery place did not reflect completely these high standards. The square was subject to many alterations finding its present form not before the middle of the18th century.

Before the rearrangement of the square in the 18th century the access to the monastery district was from the north, the side towards the Etzel Mountain.

Monastery and village meet on the place. From this spot you either turn to the profane or to the ecclesiastic.

Already Kaspar Moosbruggers perspective view of the monastery from 1703 reflects the rearrangements of the square. But it lasts until the time of the abbot Nicolas II Imfeld (1734-70) that the execution of these plans was approached. In autumn 1744 four Jesuits, among them Pater Antonio Lecchi, gather for a printing job in the abbey’s printing press. Later in April 1745 P. Lecchi presents Abbot Nicolas Imfeld an expertise including drafts from architect Paulo Bianchi. These plans were considered a scale to large for the Square at Einsiedeln and rejected. Some elements of relevance for the later executions had already been part of Paulo Bianchi’s expertise. Upfront cascading stairs should be realised, with lateral joining galleries, “in the form of theatri”, by an accentuation of the gallery by having it domed.

This disposition narrows the village to the monastery. A terrace that would widen the distance was replaced by a solution that creates a gesture of welcome to the approaching. The moved contrast between the convex curve of the church front and the concave arms of the arcades has a welcoming gesture for pilgrims and visitors.

This was doubtless a by-product of long awaited rearrangement of the monastery square, giving the square definitely character and aura.

The project struggled into several legal disputes. The villagers claimed a part of the place to belong to them. The canton Schwyz raised concerns, in order to assert his cantonal sovereign, fearing the abbey would extend its rights to provide asylum.

In the following centuries the pavement of the square was renewed several times and the statues were replaced. In the forties of the 19th century the monastery place got a pavement in the area bordered by the arcades. The arcade’s arches were renewed in the 2nd half of the 19th century; end of the century the renovation of the statues of the imperator between the stairs was approached.

During the preparations for the millenary 1934 the arcades and the outer pavilions were redesigned using plans from Moosbrugger while the monastery place got a new pavement. From the originally 34 figures on the balustrades, eight are still erect. Additional statues were stored in the abbey.

To state the history of the square and the inner court in detail would extend this historical information page. Interested parties may consider to read Corolla Heremitana, Olten 1964, p. 389-413 and the report of Anja Buschow Oechslin, History of the monastery place in the 19th and 20th century, cantonal archive in Schwyz.

History and Tales Around the Monastery Square

Monastery, village and monastery square have undergone a lot in their long, interesting common history. An uncountable number of visitors came to Einsiedeln, among them many personalities that have left little histories and comments. Here is a selection:

Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875), the most famous Danish poet and author (“The little mermaid”) said on July 14th 1862:

“Boutiques, rosaries, holy books and pictures crowded the place in front of the church.”

Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875)

Heinrich Hansjakob (1838 – 1916), catholic priest, badish author, in his voyage memories:

„…..Als ich nach der Rückkehr noch den grossen Platz vor der Klosterkirche betrat, verwunderte ich mich über seine absolute Menschenleere. Die Abendsonne und das Steinpflaster waren ganz allein , und der grosse Brunnen rollte sein Wasser monoton in die Stille hinein. Es könnte auf keinem Dorfkirchplatz stiller und einsamer sein.“

Heinrich Hansjakob (1838 – 1916)

A German abbot, seeking shelter in the abbey during World War I, got frightened in carnival season through the enormous uproar, the villagers produced on occasion of on the monastery square. Assuming the war had reached Einsiedeln.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851), US-American author (“The Leather stocking Tales”, “the Last of the Mohicans”), writes in his “Gleanings in Switzerland”

„ ….we trotted on, and were soon on an eminence that commanded a view of the place to which they (pilgrims) were going.

…In the midst of such scenery, and in a sort of large amphitheatre formed by ragged mountains, towards the south and west, stood a vast pile of buildings, that has the reputation of general resemblance to St.Peter’s at Rome, although greatly inferior in magnitude, style and material. There were ranges of conventual buildings grouped together and attached to the church, like the place of the Vatican; the church itself; and a substitute for the celebrated circular colonnades, in two rows of cells, that are used as shops for the sale of images, and other similar articles of ecclesiastical traffic.”

James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851)

Meinrad Lienert (1865 – 1933), Swiss (“S’juzlienis Schwäbelpfyffli”, “Schweizer Sagen und Heldengeschichten“) in his childhood memories:

„The setting sun rayed the abbey, to light up the clock that resembled gold. The stony imperators were standing firmly at the foot of the church and the stony angels on the shops dressed with brilliant fur coats. These white Cossack hats disguised their crowns and helmets. I couldn’t stand it. It was detrimental to their majesty. I succeeded removing these degrading Cossack hats with some determined snowballs in return they seemed to wave with sword and sceptre.”

Meinrad Lienert (1865 – 1933)

Raymond Netzhammer (1862 -1945), archbishop of Bukarest:

“Unforgettable remain the special impressions, from last nights incomparable procession, that went to the altar of lights on the abbey place, bordered from thousand candles glimmering into the dark.”

Raymond Netzhammer (1862 -1945)

Myths of Mary’s Fountain (“Marienbrunnen”)

According to a tale, some village boys were chatting on the subject of growing old when drinking from the 14 spouts of the “Marienbrunnen”. As a result one boy tried to drink out of all 14 spouts, the others declared him to be a stupid dullard. He replied:”I will grow old, for my cousin said, if you drink from all 14 spouts for ninety years, you get a great age.” The answer strikes with logic.

Holy Maynard and the Black Madonna

Holy Maynard

Meginrad (Maynard) was born in Rottenburg (Stuttgart), was a student in the famous abbey Reichenau, an isle in Lac Constance. He had his ordination to the priesthood at the age of 25 and became Benedictine – friar. He became head of a cell tied to a school at Lake Zurich.

His special addiction to solitude leads him to go to hermitage at the Etzel Mountain.

In the year 835 he retreated to hermitage “in the dark woods” at the southern part of Lake Zurich. Without his consent the news of his hermitage spread in the whole area. Gifts he got for gratitude he passed on to the needing of the area. News such as these, may also have been a cause that two looters, he had entertained with bred and wine, had beaten him down with a club, in the year 861.Two ravens, which Maynard had grown up and fed, followed the assassins and brought forward their arrest.

First buried on the isle of Reichenau in the year 1039 his body was conveyed to the place of his death. The cell of the holy Maynard had become in the meantime the Benedictine abbey Einsiedeln.

Lady of the Hermits chapel (Marienkapelle)

The visitor of the church enters an enormous octagonal room and faces the chapel of Mary in black marble. It is Maynard’s shrine of prayer. The “Waldbrüder” fabricated a chapel on the ruins of the altar. On the occasion of the consecration of the chapel, the bishop Conrad of Constance, it is affirmed, was anticipated by angels, who performed the rite heavenly music at midnight. Conrad renounced to consecrate the chapel, declaring the chapel had already been sanctified.

The annually celebrated “Ordination of the angels” on September 14th goes back to this legend. The originally simple Chapel had been extended in the centuries. In May 1798 the Chapel was destroyed by the French troupe and reerected in years 1816-1817.

(The shrine is of marble, and it stands quite near the great doors. Iron gratings in front, and on parts of the two sides, permit views of the interior, where the bronzed images of the mother and child are so placed as to receive the rays of a single but strong lamp. Their habiliments resembled pure gold.)

The picture of the black Madonna

The picture of the black Madonna was created by an unknown artist in the 15th century. It was a replacement for the originally roman picture of our Lady of the Hermits, destroyed in the fire of 1495. Early Mary and Child Jesus child got the embroidered robe, leaving free but hands and face. The colour of the dress varies according to the liturgical season. Mary and Child Jesus with their crowned heads – already brother Claus had seen them in this way.

The picture of our Lady of the Hermits of Einsiedeln belongs to a group of famous black European Madonna. Carbon black from candles burning in front of the Madonna gave her the black complexion. During renovation in Austria 1803, artist laid free the original colour and repainted the Madonna flesh-coloured. This alteration was not appreciated from the population as a result the Madonna was repainted black.

The Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln

The history

In 835, Meinrad, a Benedictine monk from the Island of Reichenau in Lake Constance, withdrew as a hermit into the “Dark Forest”. Other hermits followed, among them bishop Benno from Metz in Lorraine. In 934 Eberhard, a noble priest and canon of the cathedral of Strasbourg, assembled the hermits into a monastic community and in 934 a Benedictine monastery was founded. Later excellent teachers lived here, e.g. Blessed abbot Gregory of England (+ 996) and St. Wolfgang, the later bishop of Ratisbonne (+ 994).

Supported by bishops, by the nobility (especially by the duchess Reginlinda ) and by the royal house, Einsiedeln became a spiritual and cultural center for the whole Alemannic region and influenced Bavaria and Upper Italy (monks of Einsiedeln founded and reformed abbeys; other monks were made bishops).

After 1100 the prince abbey for social and political reasons, met with a constant decline, so that at the time of the Reformation only one member of the abbey was left.

Since the 14th century the Marian pilgrimage has begun to flourish again and after the trials of Reformation although only gradually, prosperity returned, both spiritual and material, and the abbey entered a golden age in the baroque time. After the suppression of 1798 and the three years exile a new start was made. The abbey of Einsiedeln with its Marian shrine became the focus of Swiss Catholic piety and culture and even an international pilgrimage site. In the 19th and 20th century the vitality of the abbey allowed the monks to make various monastic foundations in North and South America, some of which grew bigger than Einsiedeln.

The Church and the Construction of the Monastery

The Romanesque and the Gothic buildings had suffered in the course of the centuries and were insufficient for the growing community. In 1704 construction began on the symmetrical complex of the actual monastery with its four inner courtyards. In the middle of the monastery lies the abbey church, running from its western façade to the east, it is the central point of the large rectangle. The other wings, connected together by spacious and luminous corridors house the community rooms which are suitably decorated, and the individual cells which have a consciously simple finishing.

The south wing houses the abbot’s “court”, the guest rooms, the kitchen, the refectory and the Great Hall; the adjoining wings to the west and the east are for the monastic community. The wing adjoining the choir from the east houses the juniors and on the first level has the beautifully stuccoed “old chapter hall.” The baroque library and the abbey school occupy the north wing. By 1718, the new complex was complete, with the exception of the north-west portion of the façade which was added only in 1746. At different times various buildings were added for the administration, for the workshops, for the school and for the barns and for the horse stables.

On the baroque square with the “Lady Fountain” (1747) one stands before the limestone façade with the two effectively proportioned towers. The architect of the abbey church was Brother Caspar Moosbrugger to whom we owe also the plan for the symmetrical complex of the whole monastery. The church was solemnly consecrated on May 3, 1735. In the present abbey church the thousand years of its history are reflected.


H.J. Kuen created the fountain in the middle of the square below the arcade in the years 1648-86. The fountain goes back on the Maynard’s fountain, already mentioned in the block book of 1460. During 18th century the fountain was moved, for the original well apparently dried out. Later it was discovered that the well had only found a new exit further down in the village.

In 1754 following a three years search a new well, not far from the old, had been found. At this occasion the fountain, with a replaced statue of Mary and a new crown, had been moved to the middle of the square, where it stands today.

The Fountain of Mary has a set of 14 outlet spouts. 1749 the domed roof has been replaced. The statue of Mary (the cooper plated statue of Immaculate Conception) was manufactured by Domenico Pozzi from Milano.

Secure your own piece of the monastery square