HISTORY OF THE MONASTERY SQUARE
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.