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Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair

Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair

The Convent of Müstair, which stands in a valley in the Grisons, is a good example of Christian monastic renovation during the Carolingian period. It has Switzerland's greatest series of figurative murals, painted c. A.D. 800, along with Romanesque frescoes and stuccoes.

Couvent bénédictin Saint-Jean-des-Sœurs à Müstair

Caractéristique du renouveau monastique chrétien à l'époque carolingienne, le couvent de Müstair, situé dans une vallée des Grisons, conserve le plus important ensemble de peintures murales de Suisse, exécutées vers 800, ainsi que des fresques et des stucs de l'époque romane.

دير القديس يوحنا للراهبات في موستاير

يحافظ دير موستاير الذي يجسّد ميزة للنهضة الرهبانية المسيحية في العصر الكارولينجي والقابع في وادي غراوبندن على أهم مجموعة من اللوحات الجدارية العائدة الى عام 800 في سويسرا وعلى الجدرانيات والنقوش الجصية المرتقية الى العهد الروماني.

source: UNESCO/ERI



source: UNESCO/ERI

Бенедиктинский монастырь Св. Иоанна в Мюстаире

Монастырь в Мюстаире, находящийся в горной долине в кантоне Гризон, это наглядный пример обновления деятельности христианских монастырей в эпоху Каролингов. Он обладает крупнейшим в Швейцарии собранием фигурных настенных росписей, относящихся к IХ в., а также романскими фресками и лепниной.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Convento benedictino de Saint-Jean-des-Soeurs en Müstair

Situado en un valle del cantón de los Grisones, este convento es un exponente característico de la renovación de la vida monástica cristiana en la época carolingia. Conserva frescos y estucos del período románico, así como el conjunto de pinturas murales más importante de toda Suiza, ejecutado hacia el año 800.

source: UNESCO/ERI


source: NFUAJ

Benedictijner klooster van Sint Johannes in Müstair

Het klooster van Müstair – in een vallei in de Graubünden – is een goed voorbeeld van christelijke kloostervernieuwing tijdens de Karolingische periode. Het heeft de grootste reeks figuratieve muurschilderingen van Zwitserland – geschilderd omstreeks 800 na Christus – en Romaanse fresco’s en stucwerk. Het klooster werd waarschijnlijk omstreeks 780 na Christus gesticht door de bisschop van Chur. Vanaf het begin van de 9de eeuw stond het bekend als een instelling van de Benedictijnen, het werd pas in 1163 een klooster. Het belangrijkste gebouw van het kloostercomplex is de kerk, gewijd aan Sint Johannes de Doper.

Source: unesco.nl

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Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair © Editions Gelbart
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

The Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair, located in a valley of the Grisons in the extreme south-eastern part of Switzerland, south of the Alps, was founded around 775, probably on the orders of Charlemagne. At the beginning of the 9th century it was noted as being an establishment of religious Benedictines, and became a women’s abbey in the first half of the 12th century. Religious activities have continued uninterrupted until the present day, with the abbey becoming a priory in 1810. Today, the convent ensemble comprises the Carolingian conventual church and the Saint Cross Church, the residential tower of the Abbess von Planta, the ancient residence of the bishop, including two rectangular courtyards. To the west the courtyard is surrounded by cloisters, two entrance towers and agricultural buildings.

The property reflects both the history of its construction and the political and socio-economic relations in this region and throughout Europe over more than 1200 years, and thus provides a coherent example of Carolingian conventual architecture over time.

The conventual church houses the most important cycle of frescoes of the Carolingian era conserved in situ. The creation of these frescoes is dated  around the first half of the 9th century. The church, which is conserved for the most part in its Carolingian style, was initially destined as a space to be decorated with paintings: representations of the history of Christ decorate its entire perimeter, the apses and the inner walls. The scenes are laid out in a decorative way with elements connected by thematic and spatial correspondence and represent an outstanding example of Christian iconography.

Criterion (iii): The conventual ensemble is one of the most coherent architectural works of the Carolingian period and High Middle Ages, with the most extensive cycle of known paintings for the first half of the 9th century. The figurative paintings of the Roman era, and especially the Carolingian period, are particularly important for understanding the evolution of certain iconographic Christian themes, such as the Last Judgement.


The property comprises the entire monastic ensemble and the annex elements for agricultural exploitation located within the walls of the ensemble. The property includes all the requisite elements to express its Outstanding Universal Value.


Historical and archaeological researches have determined all the restoration work in strict respect of the original substance since the 1947-1951 campaign. The property fulfills the conditions of authenticity not only with regard to the material substance, but also from the functional perspective: the convent is still a religious centre for Benedictine sisters.

Protection and management requirements

The property benefits from legal protection at all State levels and therefore benefits from the highest possible protection. Federal protection is inscribed in the land register and the competent authority of the Confederation must grant its approval for all work foreseen at the site. The Cantonal listing also ensures the conservation under the competent cantonal authority and forbids any demolition. The property is located in a protected zone in the local town plan for the commune. The boundaries of the property are located in a non-constructible zone and guarantee maintenance of the landscape values of the property.

The “Pro Kloster Müstair” Foundation that exists since 1968 is responsible for the management and conservation of the property. It comprises a foundation council, a directorate and a director. In particular, it establishes and implements the plans for conservation and archaeological research, as well as the funding, communication and development plans. It establishes the annual budget for the property and in its capacity as site manager, plans and controls maintenance and restoration work.

A convention between the Foundation and the Benedictine sisters regulates the management and coordination of the different needs and requests, concerning scientific and archaeological research, as well as maintenance of the ensemble, the religious function, agricultural exploitation and visitor expectations. Regular and close contact with the competent authorities at all State levels guarantees a use of the property that has conservation as its primary concern.

Long Description

The Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair, in the upper valley of the Canton of Grisons, bears exceptional testimony to a Carolingian civilization and art which has disappeared. It is one of the most coherent examples of conventual architecture and painting of the Carolingian period and the early Middle Ages.

This convent was, most likely, founded around 780 by the Bishop of Chur at the behest of Charlemagne. It is noted from the beginning of the 9th century as being an establishment of Benedictines. It did not become a convent until 1163.

The most important construction of the monastic complex, including two cloisters, is the church, dedicated to St John the Baptist. Formed by a simple rectangular hall some 20 m long, it is closed at the east by three tall semi-circular apses, adorned on the exterior by blind arcades.

In the church, the removal of the Gothic ceiling (1908-9) and of the whitewash (1947-51) brought to light important vestiges of frescoes dating from the Romanesque period (approximately 1150-70) and, more important still, from the Carolingian period. This is, in fact, the most important cycle of painting which is currently known dating from around 800. These figurative paintings (scenes from the Old and New Testaments), of a fine aesthetic quality, painted in a limited range of ochres, reds and browns, postdate the frescoes of Castelseprio and San Salvatore in Brescia. They are particularly important in understanding the evolution of certain Christian iconographic themes, such as the Last Judgement. The panels are framed with painted strips of garlands and ribbons, and culminate at the top in a large cornice that reproduces an architectural feature. Sadly, the cycle has suffered considerable damage, both because of ill-conceived restorations and because of the repainting of the apses, which probably took place between 1165 and 1180, whereas the frescoes on the side walls, with the Stories of David, were removed and placed in the Landesmuseum in Zürich.

Other precious artworks preserved in the Benedictine complex date from successive centuries: dating from the Romanesque period are, in addition to the frescoes preserved in the church's apse area, the large statue in painted stucco depicting Charlemagne (1165), located in the choir, and on the left wall of the same room a fine Romanesque relief depicting the Baptism of Christ (1087).

Within the enclosure walls of the monastery are found other early elements, among them, in particular, in the north-west quarter, the residence of Bishop Norbert with its remarkable decor of frescoes and stucco-work in the two-storey chapel (11th and 12th centuries).

The other rooms in the abbey, which for the most part date back to the 18th century, are located around the main cloister and contain documents, models related to the religious complex, reliquaries, robes, and object of sacred art, dating from the 13th to the 18th centuries.

During the Gothic and Baroque periods, it was subjected to major modifications, like the rest of the complex: two rows of columns divided the interior into three aisles, a matroneum was installed, and the original wooden ceiling was replaced by a vaulted roof; on the exterior, in the 15th century, adjoining the right-hand side of the church, a stout tower with a square plan was built, a tower-house for the Abbess of the convent.