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The Plan of St. Gall

The Plan of St. Gall is the earliest preserved and most extraordinary visualization of a building complex produced in the Middle Ages. Drawn and annotated on five pieces of parchment sewn together, the St. Gall Plan is 112 cm x 77.5 cm and includes the ground plans of some forty structures as well as gardens, fences, walls, a road, and an orchard. Three hundred thirty three inscriptions identify the buildings and their uses, including a church. a scriptorium, lodgings for visiting monks, a monastic dormitory, refectory, kitchen, bake and brew house, guest house, abbot's residence, and an infirmary, and numerous fields and industrial out-buildings.

Codex Sangallensis 1092
recto verso
St. Gall Plan recto St. Gall Plan verso
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Why was it made?

One of the inscriptions on the Plan itself states that it was designed for Gozbert, the abbot of St. Gall (816-837 A.D.) and the person responsible for building the monastery's great Carolingian church in the 830s. The donor, probably Haito, the abbot of Reichenau (806-823), explains that the purpose of the Plan is for Gozbert to “exercise your ingenuity and recognize my devotion”, suggesting that the Plan was not a blueprint in the strict sense. Furthermore, the design does not fit the actual terrain of the river valley in which St. Gall is located, nor does the Carolingian church of St. Gall reflect the design of the church on the Plan. These facts have caused scholars to see the Plan as as a generic solution for the ideal monastery. When, why and how this ideal was developed has been the focus of Plan research during the last fifty years.

While our inability to pinpoint the Plan's author and his motivation is frustrating, the conclusion that the Plan was not created for a specific time and place paradoxically makes it more valuable: the Plan might be fairly characterized as a two-dimensional meditation on the ideal early medieval monastic community, created at a time when monasticism was one of the dominant forms of political, economic, and cultural power in Europe.

What's on our site?

This site will provide access to the results of our long-term project of creating an extensive data base to aid research into the Plan and Carolingian monastic culture. Besides a variety of digital representations of the Plan itself, the site includes a graphic representation of how the Plan was physically made, detailed information on each of the elements of the Plan, and transcriptions and translations of its inscriptions. In addition, the site contains resources for understanding the material culture context of the Plan. A series of extensive data bases include one presenting physical objects found across Europe that add to our understanding of Carolingian monasticism, one devoted to the terminology of Carolingian material culture, descriptions of all known Carolingian religious edifices, and an extensive bibliography on both the Plan itself and Carolingian monastic culture generally. All these databases are searchable individually and collectively.