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Peace of Mind 3 minutes to read

In monasteries like St. Lambrecht we not only find an ancient tradition of cultivating nature, we sometimes also find ourselves.

Author: Stefan Hayden

 

Gerwig Romirer, one could say, is serenity in person. It would seem that over time, he has absorbed the tranquillity of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey – for he has been living, working and praying at the monastery for 23 years.

Father Gerwig – as he is known here – with his round glasses, stubbly chin and warm smile is sitting at a wooden table in his study as he tells us that time and again visitors have confirmed the effect the monastery and its garden have on them, even if they have only spent a few hours here. “Just a few steps and it’s another world”. This is why he sees the monastery as a “different place”. A world of its own with a different way of life. Many people find that staying at the monastery is a chance to reflect on the things that really matter. It gives them a source of strength, one that lets them tap into new energy and ideas. And in no small measure, that is also because of the way they are able to experience nature here.

There are no visitors in sight yet this Saturday morning. On the road to the monastery, which is located in a valley at 1,028 metres above sea level, sheep and cows can be seen grazing on a steep slope as well as freshly shorn alpacas. Alpaca wool grows very slowly as if the animals had adapted to the leisurely pace of life here. “Hopefully it will grow by winter”, chuckles Father Gerwig as he contemplates the naked South American camels.

Otherwise there’s nothing unusual going on at this hour in the Styrian village in the mountains bordering Carinthia. Only one of the 2,000 residents is out and about – taking the dog for an early morning walk. Even the mist is slow to melt away from the tree crowns and make way for a sunny day.

“Just a few steps and it’s another world”

Father Gerwig © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Father Gerwig © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Father Gerwig

The only signs of life in the garden in front of the main facade of the monastery are the bumble bees (that seem especially drawn to the feverfew) and a ginger-and-white cat slinking through the flower beds. The roses are covered in dew, and the only sounds to be heard are the occasional ring of a cow-bell in the distance, bird song and the gentle burbling of water from the fountain. Unbelievably quiet and peaceful would be the best way of describing it. In the centre of the quadrilateral garden, which was designed by artists and landscape architects and in which each quarter represents one of the four elements, is a baroque pavilion that has been decorated in white and violet in preparation for a wedding.

The garden brings together everything that nature can be for us: nourishment, inspiration, beauty, healing power. Nature in all its rich variety and manifestations can be found in this circular micro-cosmos: A soft, pale-green carpet of moss on the banks of the stream at one end of the garden facing young apple trees at the other end. Water that has collected in the hollow of a granite stone and trimmed chive. And the green! There is a furry grey-green. A lime-juice green. A lush colour-stamp green. Raspberries that hide under thick leaves, fragrant night phlox, rhubarb, Romanesco and yellow tickseed.

The tranquillity of tradition

  • Labyrinth at St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Labyrinth at St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer  Fehringer Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer  Fehringer St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • Father Gerwig © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Father Gerwig © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer  Fehringer St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer
  • Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer Garden of St. Lambrecht’s Abbey, Styria © Österreich Werbung / Rainer Fehringer

The location is sheltered and secluded, which is one of the reasons it was chosen by the noble Eppenstein family as the site for a Benedictine monastery over 900 years ago. There were – and still are - no busy traffic routes here. But crucially, it was possible to live with and off Mother Nature. “There was sufficient food to enable the monks to survive the year and also to make it through the winter”, Father Gerwig explains. There is plenty of water in the area – “and here and there, dams were built to give nature a little bit of extra help”, so that pools became ponds where fish are still bred even today.

Just as St. Lambrecht has put its stamp on the region, there are a host of other monasteries whose long history has helped shape the landscape. Despite all the differences between them, one thing they have in common is the tradition of cultivating natural spaces. In Central Europe, monasteries are protected spaces where the antique Roman art of gardening has survived. Visitors are always most impressed to see that art form today.  “When a place is inhabited, cultivated and used over centuries with a certain attitude of mind, this influences the place itself in a way”, Father Gerwig says. “This is something that can be felt”. The garden, therefore, always plays an important role in the extensive range of seminars and courses offered at St. Lambrecht, for example during morning meditation or – even more directly – in workshops on gardening. It is in this spirit, that it is also used as a forum for cultural events from classical music concerts and readings to theatre performances.

Father Gerwig now guides us through the corridors and rooms of the monastery – a black leather bag in his left hand, a bunch of keys in his right –, past wrought iron gates and over steep staircases. A boisterous church youth group from Graz approaches. “Things are not always so quiet at St. Lambrecht,” he laughs.

St. Lambrecht’s Abbey

Encounters with nature

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