The Medieval Review 15.11.21

Tremp, Ernst and the Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen, eds. Der St. Galler Klosterplan: Faksimile, Begleittext, Beischriften und Übersetzung. St. Gallen: Verlag am Klosterhof, 2014. pp. 51 plus facsimile. CHF 35.00 (paperback). ISBN: 9783905906059 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Diem
Syracuse University

Perhaps more appropriate than a conventional review of this work would be a series of action photographs of my students sprawled out on a seminar room table, running their fingers across the Plan while attempting to discern the function of each space and decipher the inscriptions. Creating an affordable, full-size facsimile of the Plan of St. Gall is highly praiseworthy. For the purposes of scholarship and pedagogy, nothing can beat physical paper (except for parchment, of course), and even those who currently use the UCLA Digital Library's excellent website on the St. Gall Plan ( will enjoy working with a tool that resembles the original object itself. The facsimile comes with a short introductory booklet written by Ernst Tremp, the former director of the Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen. The booklet is targeted at a broad audience and includes a transcription and German translation of the Plan's 333 inscriptions along with the dedicatory letter to Abbot Gozbert of St. Gall (d. 837). The translation is based on the work of Walter Berschin.

It would be highly desirable to have an English version of the booklet, and especially the tituli (though an English translation is available in vol. 3 of Walter Horn and Ernst Bohn's work on the Plan of St. Gall, online on The following should be primarily understood as suggestions for a possible English version, which could easily become a widely used teaching tool.

Presumably for reasons of affordability, the editors did not provide a facsimile of the Plan's reverse, which contains twelfth-century script detailing a collection of episodes and miracles from the life of St. Martin, based on Sulpicius Severus' work. A diminutive image of the reverse is reproduced on the folded out cover of the booklet--large enough to give a visual impression but too small to read the manuscript. Although the Plan's verso may not be as relevant for a student of the Plan itself, its absence limits both the range of questions that one could be prompted to ask and a possible exploration of the life of the Plan's physical document.

In order to make the tituli identifiable, the editor divided the Plan into forty-five sectors, which are numbered in correspondence with the lists of tituli. The numbered chart can be folded out and read along with the tituli and their translation. However, the information of which number represents which section of the monastery is, unfortunately, in the booklet and cannot be flipped out and consulted along with the translation. Moreover, the numbering of the sectors is rather imprecise, which makes the identification of tituli on the Plan a somewhat tedious undertaking--almost as if the editor desired to follow the prompt given in the dedicatory letter: quibus sollertiam exerceas tuam (through which you exercise your ingenuity). These problems could be easily resolved in a new edition.

The content of the booklet is, as previously stated, targeted at a larger audience and mostly serves its purpose well. In the first part, the author addresses the Plan's origin, date, and process of its creation, and gives a short overview of the history of the research pertaining to it, from the first studies by Canisius and Mabillon to the experimental archeological project Campus Galli. This project, which started in 2013, is attempting to use the Plan of St. Gall to rebuild the monastery near the city of Meßkirch, which is, incidentally, not part of Schwaben as Ernst Tremp suggests, but of Baden. (Admittedly, this is nit-picking, but for someone who grew up five kilometres from Meßkirch, at the other side of the frontier, this is important.)

Ernst Tremp explains how the Plan originated from Reichenau, provides a short overview of its historical context--particularly the monastic reforms at the beginning of the reign of Louis the Pious--and discusses the different arguments for dating the plan either directly in the context of the reform councils of 816-19 or in the context of the construction of the new monastery church of St. Gall in 830 under Abbot Gozbert. He tends towards the later dating of the plan.

In the second part, the author takes his readers on a guided tour through the Plan, putting special emphasis on those sections that might spark the imagination of a broader audience: the enclosure, dormitory, guest quarters, school, and especially the gardens for herbs and vegetables and the orchard. He does so by complementing the Plan with evidence from various additional sources, particularly the Rule of Benedict, Hildemar of Corbie's Commentary to the Rule, the Capitulare de Villis, and Walahfrid Strabo's Hortulus.

In this context I would like to take issue with the author's approach, which, to be fair, duly summarizes work of previous scholars. Following the viewpoint of his predecessor Johannes Duft, Tremp characterizes the Plan as a "Musterbeispiel für eine Synthese der durch die Benediktsregel bestimmten klösterlichen Baustruktur und Organisationsform mit der aus der Antike überlieferten Vermessungstechnik" ("a prime example of a synthesis of a building structure determined by the Rule of Benedict with the measurement technique transmitted from antiquity"), as a "bildhafte Illustrierung der Benediktsregel" ("a pictorial illustration of the Rule of Benedict"), and as a "perfektionierter Spiegel der Regula Benedicti" ("a perfected mirror of the Rule of Benedict"). This characterization does justice neither to the text of the Regula Benedicti nor to the Plan itself. It builds upon the widespread notion of Carolingian monasticism as "Benedictine" monasticism--the argument being that because the Carolingians made the Regula Benedicti the leading monastic norm, Carolingian monasticism in general, and the Plan of St. Gall in particular, must have been a manifestation of the Regula Benedicti. The evidence for that is rather thin and mostly based on vague parallels with the sparse instructions on spatial organization in the Regula Benedicti. But even in this regard, it is much easier to find evidence indicating that the Plan deviated from the Regula Benedicti rather than strictly followed it. A Carolingian Reichskloster is an institution fundamentally different from those that emerged in Benedict's late Roman world. It would be more productive to point the reader to the fact that the Plan of St. Gall presents, if anything, a Carolingian interpretation, radical appropriation, and, in many regards, revision of the monastic models envisioned by the Regula Benedicti itself. A reader unfamiliar with the Rule would get the impression that this monastery laid out by the Plan--which contains a carefully delineated sacred space, possesses clear cut boundaries between the enclosure and the outside world, serves as a major center of economic and political power, and is an important place of pilgrimage, veneration of saints, medicinal care, education, and learning—is a "Benedictine" monastery, and that instructions regarding all of this could be found somewhere within the Regula Benedicti. This, of course, is not the case.

Even for a lay audience, it might be a worthwhile challenge to deconstruct this common notion and to use the Plan of St. Gall to show that monasticism did indeed have a history of its own--that it changed and transformed and was shaped and reshaped by political and social frameworks, rather than just assuming that the Plan represented a "monastische Leistungsgesellschaft deren Grundsätze von der Benediktsregel des frühen 6. Jahrhunderts vorgegeben sind und im St. Galler Klosterplan des 9. Jahrhunderts ihren bis heute sichtbaren Ausdruck gefunden haben" (a monastic production-oriented community that followed the principles of the Rule of Benedict of the early sixth century and found a still visible expression in the Plan of St. Gall of the ninth century). I think we can expose even a non-expert audience to a more complicated reading of the Plan of St. Gall.

Copyright (c) 2015 Albrecht Diem

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