The Abbey of Saint Gall

Saint Gall: A Cultural Gem in Eastern Switzerland

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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 has 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.

Gallus – The founder of the town of Saint Gall

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 impressive 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.

Aside from the monumental abbey, Saint Gall is also known for its textile industry. Since the 15th century, the local embroideries has started gaining 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.

Practical Information

  • 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.
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18 thoughts on “Saint Gall: A Cultural Gem in Eastern Switzerland”

  1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    This is why I love following your stories; you take us to places that, for some reason, are not much written about, at least in the blogging world. The library looks stunning! The abbey is quite an impressive sight too. This is why Europe is such a fascinating continent to explore — even in a relatively small country like Switzerland, there are so many places to see.

    1. You are so kind. Thank you, Bama!
      I personally think there is no boring place. Every town is special in its own way, for example, its history, architecture, food or perhaps its legends. We just need to figure it out. But well… there might be some exceptions 🙂

  2. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    The Swiss town looks colourful and charming! I wonder how you even know about these tiny quaint towns, you must do a ton of homework beforehand…

    1. Not a ton. Just a few Google searches 😉 Actually, I wanted to go to the Appenzell for some classic Swiss photos, but the transportation was so inconvenient and took too much time. So I ended up in Saint Gall (my plan B) 🙂 Not a bad idea though.

      1. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Wow Appenzell looked amazing on Google…
        Did you go Jungfrau??

      2. Unfortunately not 🙁 I have never been in the southern part of Switzerland. Travelling around by train in Switzerland is not as cheap as in other EU countries 🙂 Even their Swiss Pass (or whatever they called) costs a small fortune.

      3. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        I let you know how I go I just bought a 8-day travel pass for 398 francs!!

      4. Ouch! 50 franc per day just for transportation. The Swiss really knows how to earn money 🙂 And you have to pay extra if you want to use cable car. That’s not cheap either 🙁

      5. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Yea I didn’t think of it like that… I thought it was just a necessity, like hotel costs haha… But it was bloody expensive! The whole Europe holiday is bloody expensive!

      6. Indeed! And you chose even the most expensive country to visit 🙂 I think the price there is even higher than in Scandinavian countries. The good point is their service is top. Sometimes a bit cold, but it’s fine for me 🙂

  3. vinneve – I believe in this quote "Life is a JOURNEY, travel it well." Wherever we may end up so long as there is LOVE we will be happy!
    vinneve says:

    We have been to Appenzell on our 1st time to Switzerland and didn’t experience the pain of expenses at the time coz the in-laws are paying haha! But I haven’t been to St.Gall. I didn’t even know it untill I read your blog, good thing! So I can ask my inlaws about this and perhaps I or we can travel there too. It’s looks beautiful alright and interesting.

    1. The library small yet very pretty! You have to see it with your own eyes. The abbey itself is also worth visiting. Beautiful decoration and its two towers somehow resemble the Pope’s hat 🙂

      1. vinneve – I believe in this quote "Life is a JOURNEY, travel it well." Wherever we may end up so long as there is LOVE we will be happy!
        vinneve says:

        Thanks I learned a new place to go too.

  4. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    What an absolutely exquisite place. And your photos are superb as usual.
    It is possible to see the library? Do that have any of those original manuscripts on display?
    Alison

    1. Many thanks, Alison 🙂
      Visitors are allowed to enter the library. But you cannot take any photo when going inside. Perhaps they do so to protect the manuscripts. Judging from the colour of papers, the writing style and the calligraphy, I think all of them are in their original state.

  5. What a wonderful story about the bear and the monk. The Abbey of Saint Gall sure is impressive looking and I love that idyllic town square. Central Europe really knows how to do town squares—one of the things I enjoy most when visiting.

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