St. Peter’s Abbey: contains elements from Romanesque to Rococo Style

St. Peter’s Abbey, or St Peter’s Archabbey, is a Benedictine monastery in the Austrian city of Salzburg. It is considered one of the oldest monasteries in the German-speaking area, and in fact the oldest with a continuous history since its foundation in 696.

St. Peter's Abbey, Salzburg

The Abbey Church of St. Peter in Salzburg was founded by St. Rupert, who is buried inside. Known for its sumptuous Baroque decoration, it is the church of a Benedictine abbey.

History of the St. Peter’s Abbey

St. Rupert originally founded St. Peter’s Abbey in 696 AD. The present building was constructed in the Romanesque period, then completely renovated in the 17th and 18th centuries in the Baroque style.

Here Mozart’s famed Mass in C Minor premiered in 1783, with his wife, Constanze, singing the lead soprano role. Mozart often directed orchestra and choir here and played its organ. During Salzburg’s summer music festival in August, the Mass in C Minor is performed here as part of a church music concert.

During the middle ages, a competition between monastery and diocese grew. St. Peter became famous for its scriptorium and underwent the Melk reforms in the 15th century (a major modernisation named after the «leading» monastery in Lower Austria).

In 1622, Prince Archbishop Paris Lodron founded the University of Salzburg at the site of the old university campus; it was a Benedictine university under the rule of St. Peter.

St. Peter's Abbey

It was controlled by St. Peter until the secularisation and subsequent downgrading of the university into a college in 1810.

The re-foundation as a full university was also closely linked to St. Peter, since it was Abbot Karl Klotz who laid the foundation for the effort in 1926. In the following year, St. Peter was elevated to the rank of an archmonastery («Erzabtei»).

The Nazis expelled the Benedictine monks and confiscated their properties, but did not dissolve the monastery as such. The monks returned immediately after the war.

St. Peter is a major landowner in Salzburg and surroundings; its properties contribute to charitable, spiritual and cultural work of the approximately 20 monks. In 2010, Arch abbot Bruno Becker resigned after admitting the sexual abuse of a boy some 40 years earlier.

The incident was uncovered during a wave of similar cases getting reported all over Europe and caused much debate in Salzburg, where St. Peter and its abbot have a very high standing.

Architecture of the Monastery St. Peter

The church of St. Peter′s Abbey is high-Romanesque and dates back to the time of the monastery’s foundation. However, it was decorated with Baroque elements in the early 17th century under Abbot Beda Seeauer.

It is one of the many buildings in Salzburg that contains elements from Romanesque to Rococo Style.

St. Peter's Abbey

The first church on this site was probably built shortly after the death of St. Rupert, but only the ground floor of the Western tower remains from this building. After the fire of 1127, the current basilica was built under Abbot Balderich around 1130.

Charming Mix of Styles in St. Peter

The main nave of the church contains the Rupert Altar with the so-called «Felsengrab» («rock tomb») which was the original tomb of St. Rupert. Some bones of the saint are kept in a shrine in the altar of the middle nave, but most of Rupert′s relics are kept in a shrine under the main altar of the cathedral.

Rupert′s relics

In the right nave of the church you find a second tomb of a saint, St. Vitalis, in the red marble of Adnet. The main altar is of marble, too, and decorated with a painting by Martin Johann Schmidt.

The stucco decorations were made by Benedikt Zöpf, the Rococo grid from 1768 by Philip Hinterseer and the frescos and several paintings by Franz Xaver König. In the surrounding chapels you see a number of modern frescos by Anton Faistauer.

The stucco decorations

St. Peter is home to the oldest library of Austria; a particular gem is the 8th century Verbrüderungsbuch book. The library was modernised in Rococo style in 1768; it is not open to the general public and can be seen with special guided tours on rare occasions only.

It contains some 100,000 volumes. Furthermore, there are collections of annotations and musical instruments, important archives and other collections in the posession of the monastery. Tourists will rather notice the famous cemetery and the ancient Peters keller restaurant, the latter one dating back to 803.

What to See at St. Peter’s Abbey

The west portal of the church dates from 1240 and features Romanesque vaulted arches. Romanesque architecture can be seen inside too — in the form of a basilica with three aisles — but it is entirely overwhelmed by the decoration in the sumptuous Late-Baroque style of the 1770s.

The side aisles are painted in Rococo style. Behind the Rupert altar is the Felsen grab, where St. Rupert is believed to be buried.


There are several art treasures in the church, including some altar paintings by Kremser Schmidt. The Salzburg Madonna in the left chancel is from the early 15th century. The side chapel by the entrance has an unusual crèche portraying the Flight into Egypt and the Massacre of the Innocents.

Next to the church is the abbey’s legendary Weinkeller Restaurant. Founded a thousand years ago by the abbey’s monks, it serves traditional Austrian food at reasonable prices.

Visitors ' comments

  1. St. Peter’s Abbey is situated near the cliffs of Old Salzburg. Very beautiful interiors. Nextis an old cemetery with crypts. Do not forget to look into the catacombs in the rock-shelter and Chapel of the first Christians (Salzburg-card-free).
  2. The Cathedral itself is gorgeous, the decoration of the remaining Christmas supportsthe spirit of the holiday. Didn’t like that around the cemetery, any old it wasn’t, it’s still impossible to fully cemetery, and rejoice in such an atmosphere.
  3. Mandatory rendered attraction, if you want to compile a more complete impression of Salzburg for 1−2 days. The magnificent baroque interior of the Church will leave nobody indifferent. If you have at least an hour, try to consider the decor details-beauty is in the details.
  4. St. Peter’s Abbey got on the list to visit when in Salzburg. Nice and relaxed. Especially beautiful Cathedral inside. It is worth to stay and enjoy.
  5. St. Peter’s Abbey — perhaps the most interesting medieval Catholic Church in Salzburg, and one of the most interesting in Europe. Nearby is a cemetery, vaults and a little to the side-cells and other ecclesiastical premises made in the rock.

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