Nonnberg abbey in Salzburg, the oldest nunnery

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Nonnberg Abbey

The world’s oldest Christian nunnery

You can reach the abbey from Kaigasse via “Nonnbergstiege” and from Nonntal via a small alleyway. We don’t know much about the nunnery’s early history. The oldest convent church, which was probably near the rock tomb of Saint Erentrude, is said to have been a victim of fire. Kaiser Heinrich II and his wife Kunigunde erected a romantic basilica that was dedicated to the Virgin Mary in 1009, making it the second oldest Church of St Mary in Salzburg. The incredible frescoes from this time remain today, and are some of Austria’s most important romantic frescoes.

You can see them every day from 7:00 until dusk. Visitors are not permitted during mass.

History & Architecture

Crypt with freestanding columns

The church was comprehensively renovated between 1895 and 1951. Since the Middle Ages, any women joining the order as nuns had to be of noble birth, but this requirement was abandoned in 1848. The church has a touch of the Gothic about it, which can be seen in the richness and extent of ornamental features in stark contrast to the Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirche). A major highlight is the late Gothic winged alter with a central shrine featuring a beautiful statue of Mary between the country’s two patron saints, Rupert and Virgil. A one-off in Salzburg, the crypt features freestanding columns and impressive vaulted ceilings. The rock tomb of Saint Erentrude is located in the apse. The famous frescoes from the mid 12th century  are the church’s greatest treasures.

A Gift from Wolf Dietrich

A glorious late Gothic winged alter from 1498

There is a glorious late Gothic winged alter in the Johannes Chapel (Johannes Kapelle) by the main gate, which served as a chapel of rest before its Gothic reconstruction. The masterwork was probably created by students of Veit Stoß. The abbey boasts a range of artistic treasures, such as the abbess’ folding chair with bronze feet and carved ivory, a crucifix from a cathedral that dates back to around 1300, and many sculptures and smaller works of art. The abbey itself is a combination of various buildings dating from the 13th to the 19th  century, so its architecture cannot be fully defined. The abbey buildings and museum can only be visited by experts and academics in special cases. If you’d like to see the frescoes in the “paradise” and the alter in the Johannis Chapel (Johanneskapelle), you have to request a key from the abbey porter.

The nunnery became famous thanks to Vienna-born Maria von Kutschera,  who applied to be a novice at the Benedictine nunnery in Salzburg.

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