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St Gall Abbey Archives

The Archives of the Abbey of St. Gall (Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen) are owned jointly by the Canton of St. Gall and the Catholic community of the Canton, and contains the legal and administrative records of the former Abbey of St. Gall from about 720 A.D. to its secularization in 1805. Altogether there are some 20 000 original charters, more than 2500 manuscripts, and countless documents of various kinds, not to speak of maps, plans and seals. From the period before the year 1000 alone, there survive more than 700 parchment charters of gifts to the abbey, and nearly 100 Carolingian and Ottonian royal diplomas.

These are archives which have functioned for more than 1200 years. It is a unique body of charter material north of the Alps and only a few collections, like the State Archives in Milan, can compare with it in richness. For the first thousand years of Christianity, a period which generally is not well-documented, the sources in the Abbey archives are of significance not only for Eastern Switzerland and the immediate vicinity of the Abbey, but also for Zürich, Aargau, Basel, Bern, Graubünden, Vorarlberg, Alsace and Southern Germany. From then up until the French Revolution, the Archives carry much historical information relative to a great part of the present-day Canton of St. Gall, and to neighbouring regions. To a large extent it plays the role of a State Archives for this period. It also houses and administers the archives and library (with some fourty codices, in part from the 9th century) of the Abbey of Pfäfers (Fabaria) which was founded about 750 A.D. and was secularized in 1838, but it must be distinguished from the Library of St. Gall (Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen) and its great collection of theological, scientific and literary manuscripts dating back to the earliest days of the monastery. Just as all through the lifetime of the Abbey, the Archives and Library today are quite distinct entities.

Among the codices in the Archives, the most important are the Liber confraternitatum and the Liber professionum of the Abbey, both from the ninth century, and, from the Abbey of Pfäfers, the Carolingian Liber viventium, the Liber aureus of the eleventh century, and a richly illuminated volume with copies of charters made under Abbot Johannes Heider in 1590 («Vidimus Heider»).

The survival of such a rich deposit as the Archives of St. Gall owes much to the care bestowed on the Archives all through the history of the Abbey, and to its location in an area which was well protected from fire and was not subject to great humidity. When the Archives, as an independent section of the Department of Internal and Military Affairs of the Canton, were installed in the restored North Wing of the old Governmental Palace, every effort was made to continue and to reinforce that tradition of care and conservation.

The main tasks of the Archives are to preserve this great deposit for posterity, to help historians in their researches, to see to the publications of its holdings, and to answer any inquiries. From time to time the staff also mounts exhibitions in order to introduce the public at large to the wealth of historical sources in the Archives, sources, indeed, which often bear witness to developments in art at St. Gall as well.