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Highlights of the abbey’s architectural history

The former Benedictine abbey lies in the heart of Stein am Rhein's old town. Its natural boundaries are formed to the north by the Romanesque basilica (formerly the abbey church, now the parish church) and the river Rhine to the south.
The outline of the grounds shows three groups of buildings: the church, the convent block constructed around the cloister that adjoins to the south, and the abbot's living and representation quarters, which jut out southwards onto the river. Between these building complexes are three courtyards flanked by a number of purely functional structures.
Davidsbau (David’s building), lower abbots' parlour, around 1510
Davidsbau (David’s building), lower abbots' parlour, around 1510
Jodokus Krum (1460-1490) and David von Winkelsheim (1499-1525) were the two most important abbots who ruled over the abbey's clerical and secular affairs and whose construction work helped it to flourish.

To this day, relics from the early 11th-century Romanesque period when the abbey was founded, the Gothic period, the Renaissance and the heritage-obsessed 19th century can still be found throughout the complex. It was abbot Konrad Goldast (1383-1412) who began the Gothic conversion, as is evidenced by his coat of arms, marked with the year 1390, that adorns the summer refectory adjoining the cloister to the south.
His successor Abbot Johannes Send I devoted himself to renovating the chapter house at the eastern end of the complex. This building features a crucifixion relief, which shows Send kneeling at the side of the cross with his personal coat of arms. His coat of arms also appears on the northern wall of the refectory, showing the year 1444. This large hall also reveals traces of the next abbot, Johannes Singer II, who gave the refectory its late Gothic character.

It becomes clear at this point just how important the dignitaries' coats of arms are, alongside architectural and stylistic features, for dating the buildings. Each ruling abbot literally put his personal stamp on every conversion or renovation in the form of his coat of arms.
Arms of the abbey and abbot Johannes II, around 1450
Overdoor: arms, supported by putti and crowned by a mitre, of the abbey and abbot David
Woodcarving showing the arms of the abbey and abbot David, after 1500
Western window column: abbot Konrad Goldast's coat of arms carved in sandstone, which gives an indication of when the room was created.

The arrival of Jodokus Krum, abbot from 1460 to 1490, sparked a flurry of construction work in the abbey. He began by having the cloister – which was originally on a level with the church – sunk by two meters until it was at the level of the abbey block close to the Rhine.
Under his aegis, the cloister wings to the east and north were adorned with their late-Gothic tracery, cross-ribbed vault and the tendril artwork on the vault cells.

Krum was also responsible for extending the abbot's quarters in the direction of the Rhine. In the south-eastern corner of the abbey complex is a two-storey half-timbered building constructed from 1480 onwards which, in the lower abbot’s parlour, is marked with the constructor’s name and the year 1481. The eastern wing of the upper floor, which houses the dormitory and monks’ cells, also appears to be the work of Krum. In addition, he had existing rooms such as the chapter house and the winter refectory decorated with heraldic devices.
Krum's half-timbered building was completed during the brief reign of his successor, Johannes III Martin (1490-1499), whose emblem is stencilled onto the ceiling frieze in the upper-floor parlour.

When the next elected abbot David von Winkelsheim, son of the Schaffhausen-born owner of nearby Girsberg castle, took up office on 10 September 1499, this marked the beginning of what was probably, from an architectural and artistic perspective, the most important phase in the abbey's history. David's first step was to supplement the abbot's quarters left to him by Krum, which he found too small, with a handsome southwest-facing gabled building complete with bay windows overlooking the courtyard and the Rhine. This building, with its impressive interior, was finished in 1515/16. Right next his private living quarters, David erected the magnificent banquet hall, which has been preserved in its original form, in order to provide guests with a befitting reception at official events.

This was to become the most precious room in the whole abbey, and its paintings showcase the well-educated abbot's progressive, humanistic worldview.

Grisaille paintings, supplemented by a palette of the primary colours blue, red and golden yellow, were applied directly onto the wall’s dry plaster (a technique known as ‘al secco’). Revealing an extensive humanistic influence, the picture cycle from the years 1515-16 combines key figures from classical and Christian art in an early-Renaissance style to form an artwork that is unique for the Swiss cultural landscape north of the Alps. Due to the initials incorporated into the paintings, researchers believe that they are the work of two renowned artists: the initials 'TS' above the eastern door are thought to belong to the artist Thomas Schmid from Schaffhausen, while the signature 'NAMBRO' on Artemis' neck points to the Augsburg painter Ambrosius Holbein.
Overdoor in the banquet hall: initials of the painter Thomas Schmid, 1516
Overdoor in the banquet hall: initials of the painter Thomas Schmid, 1516

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Contacts

St. George's Abbey Museum
Fischmarkt 3
8260 Stein am Rhein
T +41 52 741 21 42
E E-Mail
http://www.klostersanktgeorgen.ch

Ownership timeline

A former Benedictine abbey that is publicly owned by the Swiss Confederation:

5 July 1525: The Reformation leads to the closure of the abbey. David von Winkelsheim, the last abbot, flees to Radolfszell. The abbey falls under the administration of the city of Zurich and is inhabited by its officials.

1806: Zurich hands over control of St. George's Abbey to Schaffhausen.

1834: Stein am Rhein merchant Johannes Peter buys the abbey.

1875: The priest Ferdinand Vetter purchases the abbey.

1891: Vetter's son, Professor Ferdinand Vetter, places the abbey complex under federal government protection.

1926: The Gottfried Keller Stiftung, a Swiss foundation, buys the abbey from Vetter's estate with the help of the canton of Schaffhausen and the town of Stein am Rhein. The abbey is opened to the public as a museum.

1945: Ownership of the abbey complex is transferred to the Swiss Confederation.

In 2012, the former Benedictine abbey was incorporated into the federal government's portfolio of museums.
Vault with the abbey's coat of arms
Vault with the abbey's coat of arms
Tracery window
Tracery window
Cloister
Cloister
Every cent counts!
Every cent counts!


Federal Department of Home Affairs FDHA - Swiss Federal Office of Culture FOC
http://www.bundesmuseen.ch/klostermuseum/01311/index.html?lang=en