Having neither a stunning blue lake like Lucerne nor impressive snow-capped mountains, the town of Saint Gall in eastern Switzerland might not be high on the list of the country’s top destinations. However, if you walk inside the Abbey of Saint Gall with its unmistakable twin towers, you can discover a true cultural gem.
According to local lore, everything started with an unexpected encounter between the Irish monk named Gallus and a bear. The monk persuaded the bear to leave him in peace. And he asked it to bring him a wood log in exchange for some bread. The bear did as requested and Gallus used the log to build a hermitage in a spot that would later become the Abbey of Saint Gall – the town’s heart and soul.
Aside from the monumental abbey, Saint Gall is also known for its textile industry. Since the 15th century, local embroideries have started gaining a reputation. And that has brought prosperity to the town. Though the industry is now in decline, its embroideries are still utilized in haute couture. Today, Saint Gall is mainly known for its service sector, in particular, its business schools and the insurance company Helvetia. The city also houses the parliament of the canton which represents the central area of eastern Switzerland.
The Abbey Library
Many years after Gallus’s death, the town became the “writing room of Europe” thanks to the creative works of monks who followed the footsteps of the city’s founder. Around 140,000 documents were created and preserved in the Stiftsbibliothek (Abbey Library).
That includes the history of law and medicine written in the Old High German language, biblical studies, as well as book illuminations by Irish and Saint Gall’s monks. Some manuscripts even date from before the year 1000. Constructed in the 18th century, this ornately decorated hall is considered to be Switzerland’s finest. It’s also one of the world’s most perfectly structured library buildings.
Tips for visiting Saint Gall
- Saint Gall is easily accessible by trains from Zurich. Trains run frequently and it takes approximately one hour.
- Most trains to/from Appenzellerland pass through Saint Gall, making the city an ideal base to explore this mountainous region.