A thousand years of culture in a variety of imprints on Saint Martin’s Hill

The Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma

MúzeumCafé 36.

“Monks have time for God!” This definitive statement can be read in a publication of the Pannonhalma Abbey. Today the monks still gather for common prayer three times a day, but they are also engaged in pastoral work in nearby villages, teaching, as well as maintaining a home for the elderly and a centre for tourism. They look after various collections, stage exhibitions, hold festivals and events, run an estate and have erected award-winning contemporary buildings. One exhibition, There is a Garden – Guide to Monastic Gardens, won the Exhibition of the Year, 2012 award. The Benedictine order continuously submits applications, makes investments and takes every effort to work out a strategy which organically connects the past and the future. One of the main attractions of Pannonhalma is its library, housed in a Classicist building. The library holds 400,000 books, including dozens of codices and 300 incunabula. The Abbey’s archive has a charter of
St. Stephen dated 1001, as well as the deed of endowment of Tihany Abbey. The collection of ecclesiastical items and works of fine art was established in 1833 and includes some two hundred paintings and sculptures. The collection of 3,000 prints features mostly works of Augsburg and Viennese masters from the 17th and 18th centuries, while the numismatic collection includes 25,000 coins and medals. The collection of photographs, picture postcards and devotional pictures has grown into the second largest such collection in Hungary, with the number of picture postcards exceeding half a million. The Abbey also has an archaeological compilation documenting the provincial Roman culture of the area surrounding Pannonhalma. Medieval stone carvings and floor bricks uncovered during periods of construction and identified by research of listed buildings are held there. In addition, the Abbey also has a natural science collection, including stones and minerals. Caring for and being engaged with the collections is nothing new. Their development is connected to the monks’ new tasks initiated in 1802 and their presentation is linked to the library which was first constructed in 1825. Librarian monks extended and kept records of both the books and historic relics. The latter were accommodated in the smaller library rooms, though they soon became insufficient for the expanding number of art objects, which, incidentally, could be kept together even after nationalisation. In the 1950s valuable works were declared as protected on behalf of the Hungarian state and recent years have seen the rearrangement of the collection, which, thanks to the database of the Abbey’s Library and Archives, can be accessed online. Due to the successful applications of recent years, visitors to the monastery can also enjoy this openness. Routes for tourists have been reorganised – they avoid the interior areas closed to outsiders, but parts of buildings can be seen even individually with the help of an audio guide available in ten languages. The aforementioned Exhibition of the Year, which title was awarded by the Pulszky Society – Association of Hungarian Museums in 2013, excelled from among the exhibitions, which are viewed by 60-70,000 visitors every year. The display presented the development of monastic gardens over a thousand years with examples from Europe, including the surviving monastic gardens in Hungary. The newly renovated botanical and herb gardens added a special, novel feature. The exhibition devoted a special section to the work of gardener-monks and opened up to the collection by displaying the botanical incunabula and items from the Abbey’s 100-volume “books of trees” collection, which is supplemented by a valuable seed collection. Unfortunately, this successful exhibition can no longer be seen, but visitors today can view Imago: Portraits from the Collection of the Pannonhalma Abbey. The exhibition is significant not only because it contains several works which otherwise are held in areas closed to the public, but also in that it presents photographs from the Abbey’s collection, which is Hungary’s richest ecclesiastical photographic collection. The annual Arcus Temporum Festival presents works specifically connected to the locality. For many years the Abbey has aimed to provide satisfactory conditions for both pilgrims and visitors spending time in Pannonhalma. The award-winning Saint James House and Forest Chapel ensemble has been extended with a conference hall for 70 and accommodation for young people. The Reception building, which opened in 2004, the Wine Cellar, the Visitor’s Centre operating since 2010, and the Viator Abbey Restaurant and Wine Bar, which won the Quality Prize in the Construction Industry, echo the simplicity of monastic traditions in design, yet provide a comfortable and spectacular medium for satisfying all the requirements of visitors.