What is the Cistercian Abbey Stift Heiligenkreuz?

„Stift Heiligenkreuz“, which means the „Abbey of Heiligenkreuz“, is a beautiful and living Cistercian monastery, close to Vienna, the capital of Austria. Stift Heiligenkreuz is the second-oldest Cistercian monastery in the world and the oldest continuously active and inhabited one, now full of young vocations. In September 2007 it was blessed by an official visit by Pope Benedict XVI.

Stift Heiligenkreuz, peacefully situated in the middle of the „Wienerwald“, the Vienna woods, is one of the most beautiful medieval monasteries in the world. It was founded in 1133 by St. Leopold III of the House of Babenberg. Leopold’s son, Otto, had been sent to Paris for an international education. Otto came in contact with Cistercian monks and soon decided to enter a Cistercian monastery.  When Otto visited his father in Austria he asked him to build a similar monastery for Lower Austria. This was the reason St. Leopold built Heiligenkreuz as well as Klosterneuburg to the northwest of Vienna.

Currently the monastery has 77 members, 18 affiliated parishes and a Pontifical Theological Academy (founded 1802) with around 180 students.

Guided Tours

Entry is only possible as part of a group tour (see schedule). Those seeking prayer and silence should go to the Holy Cross Chapel (Kreuzkirche).

Daily guided tours:

Monday – Saturday: at 10, 11, 14, 15 and 16.

Sundays and Feastdays: at 11, 14, 15 and 16.

Visits for groups with own guide:

9.00-11:45; 13.30-17.15. Winter: only till 16.00.


The actual fees you may see here.

The Monuments

Romanesque nave (vaulted construction) of the collegiate church (consecrated 1187) preserved; Romanesque façade, crosssept (from the 13th century with earliest ribbed vault, with massive intersecting ribs, in Austria), impressive hall choir (consecrated 1295, a masterpiece of Austrian Gothic), cloister (1220-1240); re-gothicised in the 19th century; neo-gothic high altar (1887), Baroque altar painting by J. M. Rottmayr (1696), choir stalls (1707) by Giovanni Giuliani; nonagonal fountain-house with glass paintings of members of the Babenberg family (1290) and lead fountain from the 16th  century.

In the late-Romanesque chapter room, tombs of 4 ruling dukes of the Babenbergs: Leopold IV, Leopold V, Friedrich I and Friedrich II; early-gothic dormitory; for English people it may be interesting, that Leopold V. was the „kidnapper“ of King Richard Lionheart. The tomb of Duke Leopold V. is in the Chapter House.

Baroque construction phase of the monastery from 1641, finished in 1662. Rebuilt after damage in 1683. In the early-Baroque courtyard: Trinity column (1736-39) and Josefsbrunnen fountain by Giuliani (1739). Way of the Cross (1731-50) off the monastery grounds.


Zisterzienserabtei Stift Heiligenkreuz,
A-2532 Heiligenkreuz im Wienerwald,
Tel. +43-2258-8703-0;
Email: information@stift-heiligenkreuz.at

The spirituality of Stift Heiligenkreuz

Heiligenkreuz is a place of prayer and worship

This Cistercian Abbey was founded in 1133 by Saint Leopold III as a house of prayer to thank and praise God and to intercede for the sake of the whole world. The spiritual and cultural life of this house has continued without any interruption or destruction. We Cistercians live in the rhythm of “ora et labora – pray and work”. Welcome to this holy place!

Monastic Choir Prayer in Latin (daily):

These days we monks sing the office in Gregorian Chant five times a day.
Prayers begin here at 5:15 a.m. and end at 8:00 p.m.

5.15 Vigil
6.00 Lauds
6.25 Conventual Mass (weekdays)
9.30 Solemn Mass with Gregorian chant (Sundays and Feast days)
12.oo Terz and Sext
12.55 None
18.00 Vespers
19.50 Compline with Salve Regina
afterwards adoration and rosary

Beautiflul Illustrated Guide

Beautiful book with many beautiful pictures, best information!

In this book you find the best information in English about our monastery: „The Illustrated Guide to Stift Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna Woods“. Autor: Pater Karl Wallner, Translation: Pater Alcuin Schachenmayr, 168 pages, 24,0×16,0cm, Be&Be-Verlag: Heiligenkreuz 2012, ISBN 978-3-902694-31-7, Preis: 12,90 Euro. You can order it easily by email: bestellung@klosterladen-heiligenkreuz.at

The abbey Stift Heiligenkreuz in the Vienna Woods is known far beyond our local borders. Heiligenkreuz was founded in 1133 by Leopold III, a member of the Babenberg dynasty and a saint. It has been a living monastery ever since. Stift Heiligenkreuz is only 15 kilometres from the edge of Vienna and easily reachable via highway A21. Despite the proximity to cosmopolitan Vienna, the monastery lies in a peaceful and secluded valley in the Vienna Woods, surrounded by gently rolling hills and forests of beech and fir.

The monks welcome visitors and guests, and the more than 100,000 tourists who visit the abbey every year! Here you can see all the major architectural styles and artistic movements of the last 900 years. You can visit the grave of the man who kidnapped Richard the Lionheart. And you can breathe in the incense-scented air in the light-drenched abbey church and marvel at the dancing skeletons in the Chapel of the Dead.

But most of all, Heiligenkreuz is no dusty museum: it is a living and vibrant monastery. Monks live and work here, and we pray the Divine Office every day for the people of the 21st Century. That means that you can hear the monks singing Gregorian chant here, you can attend Mass, you can pray and you can make confession. As it says on our website www.stift-heiligenkreuz.at: Stift Heiligenkreuz is the mystical heart of the Vienna Woods, a harmony of nature and culture, a union of the medieval and the baroque, a symphony of history and spirituality. This guide is writen by an monk. It is an invitation to you: Come and see!

Gregorian Chant at the Cistercian Abbey Stift Heiligenkreuz

We Cistercians in Heiligenkreuz see the Liturgy, the solemn worship of God in his Holy Church, as our chief mission. The Rule of St. Benedict, by which we live, gives us a vision of the monastic life formed by two main elements „ora et labora (pray and work); the monastic life is a life of common prayer and common work. But of these two the first, prayer, is the most important, „nothing is to be preferred to the Divine Office“ (Rule of St. Benedict, 53). In Heiligenkreuz the ancient liturgical prayers of the Church are still sung in the ancient liturgical music of the western Church: Gregorian Chant.

Thus we do not sing merely for artistic reasons, but our song is our form of prayer, meditation praise. That is why we all have to study Latin; so that we can attend to the meaning of the words that we sing. As the Liturgy is always a prayer of the Church, the faithful are always invited to join us—and many do.

The main part of our common prayer, which we monks begin at 5:15 every morning, consists in the solemn and meditative singing of the Psalms. Gregorian Chant is thus a kind of Bible meditation—almost all of the chanted texts are taken from the Bible.

Unlike the hymns common in modern churches, Gregorian Chants are not typically composed in stanzas, with the same melody repeated in each stanza, but rather each text has its own melody composed to bring out its meaning. Unlike much modern music, Gregorian Chant is always sung without accompaniment, and in unison; that is, there is only one melodic line, without harmony. This gives the Chant its austere sound, and the name „plainchant.“ This also however, allows the chant to be free of the rhythmical restraints necessary to keep several melodic lines together. Instead of being composed in strict rhythmic measures, the chant is composed in a free musical rhythm that rises and falls in accord with the inner meaning of the melody and words. Moreover, instead of being composed in major of minor key, like modern music, Gregorian chant is composed in eight „modes“—key like tonal structures—that allow for a wide range of musical moods.

The melodies go back to the earliest days of the church, and have there ultimate roots in the Jewish Temple Liturgy. The name „Gregorian Chant“ come form Pope Gregory the Great (died 604), who founded a chant schola in Rome that collected all the best chants. The Cistercians, as a reform order of the 12th century, simplified the chants somewhat to develop their one form of chant, which is slightly different from Roman Chant. (For more on the theory and practice of Gegorian Chant see the web’s premier chant resource: www.musicasacra.com).

Gregorian Chant is always sung in Latin, and therefore it was threatened with extinction in the 1970s and 80s, when most Catholic Churches adopted modern language Liturgy. But today we are experiencing a remarkable renaissance of this ancient form of prayer—even young people nowadays are discovering the excitement of these melodies which have been sung through so many centuries. Of course, it must be said that it takes some time to listen oneself into this world of music, and develop an ear for its greatest treasures.


You can find a lot of information about us and the making of the album „Chant – Music for Paradise“ here.

There is even more information about the album here (but this is in German).

You will find even more pictures of our beautiful abbey and also of our monastic life in the service of God here. Just open each picture and click on the symbol in the right edge above to download. The download is free.

If you have not yet seen the sensational YouTube video by Brother Martin, which was the reason we were chosen for the album project, click here. You just have to see it! God bless you.

For Europe, Asia, Australia and South America see:

For USA see:

Plan of Heiligenkreuz Abbey

1. Reception and Visitor Information
2. Aula: Meeting Point for guided tours
3. Romanesque western facade of the church (1187)
4. Column of The Holy Trinity (1729-1739)
5. Fountain of St. Joseph (1739)
6. Old Cloister Entrance (1730)
7. Cloister  (1240)
8. Chapel of St. Anne  (1710)
9. Chapterhouse (1240)
10. Funeral Chapel (1711)
11. Fountain House  (1295)
12. Fraterie – Medieval Workroom (1240)
13. Sacristy (1667)
14. Apse in form of a hall (1295)
15. Nave (1187)
16. Living quarters of the monks (1642)
17. Chapel of St. Bernard (1295)
18. Festival Hall (1691)
19. Bell Tower (1674)
20. Sanctuary of the Relic of the Holy Cross (1982)
21. Gift Shop

That all you will see, when you take a guided tour through the Cistercian Abbey Stift Heiligenkreuz:

Romanesque nave with high gothic presbytery; baroque choir stalls by Giovanni Giuliani; sacristy with rare vestry cabinets; monastic „fratry” (medieval workroom); early gothic cloister with grisaille windows and statue groups by Giuliani, funeral chapel, chapter room with the graves of Babenberg margraves and dukes; reading corridor, gothic fountain house with stained-glass windows showing the Babenberg family.

Guests are welcome!

You are welcome to visit the monastery as a tourist, – but you are even more welcome to come to Stift Heiligenkreuz as a pilgrim. Even on a short visit you may attend the prayers of the monks at 12:00 or at the Vespers at 18:00.

You are welcome to stay as a guest for some days in the guest-house of the monastery. The rooms are very simple and poor. Please contact the guestmaster of the monastery in time. E-Mail: gastmeister@stift-heiligenkreuz.at

For young man, who are seriously interested in monastic life, we offer days of „monastic experience“. For this please contact the prior of the monastery: P. Simeon Wester OCist, E-Mail: p.prior@stift-heiligenkreuz.at

Patent portae – magis cor!
Our doors are open for you, our hearts even more!

Visit the most beautiful abbey of the Wienerwald!

The Courtyard: Here you will find two monuments by Giovanni Giuliani, an artist deeply connected to Heiligenkreuz. The Holy Trinity Column stands in the centre of the courtyard; St. Joseph’s Fountain is on the far side. Both were made at the beginning of the 18th Century. The Holy Trinity Column shows the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (you can see her rising, in the middle of the column); the smaller panels around St. Joseph’s Fountain show scenes from the Bible.

Cloister: The cloister was constructed between 1220 and 1240: this was a time of stylistic transition from Romanesque to Gothic. Therefore, you can find a combination of the two styles here in the cloister. Compare, for instance, the arches which connect the small red marble columns. Originally, the cloister was built as a connection between the church and the sacristy. The monks also used it for prayer and study. The tombstones on the wall belong to members of noble families who gave endowments to the abbey. The oldest ones are from the 14th Century.

Statues: Two statues in the cloister are works by the famous Giovanni Giuliani. One depicts Jesus washing the feet of St. Peter. The statue on the other side shows Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus. Made of linden wood, they were finished in 1705.

Reading Corridor: Every evening at eight o’clock, the monks convene here to read a chapter from the Rule of St. Benedict. Every year on Holy Thursday, a foot washing ceremony takes place here. As an imitation of Christ’s humility, the abbot washes the feet of the 12 oldest men from parishes under Heiligenkreuz’s pastoral care. The lower windows are all modern, but in the semi-circular windows over the reading-pulpit you can see original glass from the 13th Century; these sections are light grey. The windows consist of glass and lead. The first Cistercians did not use any colours in their stained glass, because they wanted the windows to represent the simple life.

St. Anne’s Chapel: Originally the front part of this room was the sacristy and the far end was the library. Later, when the number of monks grew to 250, they needed a new sacristy and a new library. Today, 64 monks belong to the abbey. Not all of them live here, because some of the monks have to take care of the 17 parishes which belong to the monastery. The Cistercian Order is a reform movement within the Benedictine tradition. The Cistercians split off in 1098 because they wanted to live in a more simple way than the Benedictines.

Chapterhouse: The election of the abbot and the investiture of novices take place in this room. All the paintings are Baroque; those on the ceiling are by Michael Rottmayer, those on the wall were made by a lay brother called Mathias Gusner.  He painted the members of the House of Babenberg who are buried here. The Romanesque, sculptured tombstone in the middle of the room is the grave of the last Babenberg Duke, Frederick the Quarrelsome; he died in 1246. The windows were made in the 19th Century in Kramsach in Tyrol. The rosette-window was at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889, where it won the first prize for its colours and their composition.

Funeral Chapel: Originally, this room was the Parlatorium, the only room in the monastery where the monks were allowed to speak. Later, the rule of silence was limited to the night-time hours and therefore Giovanni Giuliani transformed this room into a chapel for the dead. Deceased monks were – and still are – kept here for a 24-hour vigil before being buried.  The cross, made of lead, is by Raphael Donner. The ugly window was created by Peter Bischof in 1960.

Fountain House: This room served as a washing room till the middle of the 16th Century. The fountain was made in Rome in 1556 and consists of five lead basins. Because of the high mineral content of the water, the fountain has been “decorated” by mineral deposits. Most of the windows are modern replacements, but the one on the left that portrays human figures originates from 1295. On the upper left side you can see the abbeys of Heiligenkreuz (left), and Klosterneuburg (right). Then, underneath the two abbeys, you have pictures of the man who founded both monasteries, St. Leopold III (left), and his wife Agnes (right). Under the couple you can see six of their children. The man in the white robe is Blessed Otto of Freising, the son who was sent to Paris for college and returned to Lower Austria with Cistercian monks.

Sacristy: The sacristy was constructed at the beginning of the 18th Century. The paintings and the frescos on the ceiling, made by Grophoro Tenckalla and Antonio Aliprandi, originated at the time of construction. The inlaid woodwork in the cabinets was done by two lay brothers: Brother Lukas Barth and Brother Casper Wiler. It took them 20 years to complete! In addition, they used 20 different kinds of wood: mainly maple, nut and linden wood.

Fraterie: Originally, this was the monks’ workroom, used for making shoes and boots. The dark, grey spots on the walls and on the ceiling are remnants from 13th-century paintings. They were discovered recently during a restoration project. These paintings are, like the windows in the cloister, very straightforward: the monks only used two colours (red and white) and they painted single bricks in order to reflect their ideal of simplicity.

Abbey Church: The Abbey Church was built in two different styles: the Romanesque and the Gothic style.  The Romanesque part was finished in 1187. The three windows above the entrance are typical of Cistercian abbeys: they symbolise the Holy Trinity. The Gothic part of the church was finished in 1295. The high altar stands in the middle of this part, over it a canopy and a painted wooden cross. The altar and the canopy are Neogothic; they are about 100 years old.  The cross was painted in 1980. It is the copy of an Italian original from 1138, found in a church next to La Spezia.

Organ and choir stalls: The organ is one of the biggest musical instruments in Austria and was built in 1804. It has 3700 pipes, 50 registers and 2 manuals. Franz Schubert and Anton Bruckner played it. Since Schubert composed a special piece of music for the organ, it is still called the Schubertorgan. The choir stalls, which were created between 1708 and 1712, are another work by Giuliani. They consist of nut wood (the dark parts) and linden wood (the reliefs and busts above).  The reliefs portray scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. The busts above represent saintly bishops, abbots and statesmen. From their heavenly choir, they join their voices in praise together with the monks’ choir here below.

Heiligenkreuz is the mystical heart of the Vienna Woods

1.   The Cistercian monastery “Our Lady of the Holy Cross” was founded in 1133 by the margrave of Austria Leopold III, of the house of Babenberg. The request for this foundation had come from Leopold’s son, Otto, who had himself recently become a monk of the Cistercian abbey of Morimond in France. Leopold III died in 1136, and was buried in Klosterneuburg; in 1485 he was canonized as a saint. His son Otto became bishop of Freising, and is considered to be one of the most important medieval historians. Otto is venerated as Blessed, and his relics are kept in Heiligenkreuz.

2.  At that time the Cistercians were a new and vigorous reform movement in Benedictine monasticism. The name “Cistercian” comes from “Cîteaux,” the French name of the first Cistercian abbey, which was founded in 1098 near Dijon, at a place which had the Latin name “Cistercium.”

3. The Chapter Hall is the burial place for many members of the house of Babenberg, the most ancient ruling house of Austria. Among the Babenbergs buried here are no less than four rulers of Austria – Margrave Leopold IV, Duke Leopold V, Duke Frederick I, and Duke Frederick II, “the quarrelsome” – making it one of the most important burial places in Austria. Duke Frederick II lies in a raised sarcophagus since he especially patronized the monastery; with his death in 1246 the house of Babenberg came to an end.

4. In 1188 Duke Leopold V donated a large relic of the true cross to the monastery. The relic is still venerated here today. It is the largest relic of the true cross north of the Alps.

5.  The Cistercians venerate St. Benedict († 547) and St. Bernard († 1153) as their spiritual fathers. Benedict is often depicted in a black monastic cowl, with a broken glass and a book; Bernard in a white cowl with a cross, which he carries in his arms.

6.  Heiligenkreuz is the oldest Cistercian monastery in the world that has continued without interruption since its founding. The monks of Heiligenkreuz have been offering praise to God seven times a day since 1133. They begin the so-called “divine office” at 5:15 A.M. The day ends at about 8:15 P.M. with Compline. After Compline the monks observe the “silentium nocturnum” until the next day.

7. The Babenbergs supported Heiligenkreuz so generously that it was able to found several daughter monasteries: Zwettl in Lower Austria (1138), Baumgartenberg in Upper-Austria (1142), Czikador in Hungary (1142), Marienberg in present day Burgenland (1197), Lilienfeld in Lower-Austria (1202), Goldenkron in Bohemia (1263), and Neuberg an der Mürz in Styria (1327). Today the community of Heiligenkreuz is the most numerous in Austria. In 1988 it was once again able to found a daughter monastery: Stiepel in Bochum, a city in the Ruhr Valley of Germany.

8. The lofty Romanesque/Gothic abbey church, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, shows in its austere sublimity the ideal of Cistercian architecture: the building praises God as a doxology in stone, unadorned by painting or other ornaments.

9. The three windows of the west façade symbolize the Blessed Trinity. A wonderful impression is given during the Easter Season when the light of the setting sun falls through the three windows on the monks, as they sing vespers.

10. Today the Cistercians still support themselves through farming and forestry. Heiligenkreuz is the “Vienna Woods Monastery” (Wienerwaldkloster), since the name “Silva Viennensis” (Vienna Woods – Wienerwald) was first mentioned in one of the monastery’s charters dated 1332.

11. The abbey church was consecrated in 1187, in 1240 the monastery complex. In 1295 an impressive high Gothic hall-sanctuary replaced the Romanesque apse of the abbey church. The windows of the Gothic sanctuary have mostly been preserved to this day. Today Heiligenkreuz is one of the largest monastic medieval buildings in the world.

12. In the Baroque period several additions of great artistic value were made to the monastery complex – for example, the sacristy. In 1683 the abbey was damaged by the invading Turks; the library went up in flames. In the context of repairing the damage, the medieval core of the monastery was extended by several Baroque courtyards.

13. The most important Baroque artist to work for Heiligenkreuz was the Venetian sculptor Giovanni Giuliani. He carved many of the sculptures that decorate the abbey today—among others the trinity pillar, the foot-washing scenes in the cloister, and the choir stalls. After the death of his wife, Giuliani became an oblate of the monastery. Famous painters such as Michael Rottmayr, Martino Altamonte, and Georg Andreas Washuber also worked for the abbey. Giuliani and Altomonte are buried in the abbey church.

14.  Between 1780 and 1790, under Emperor Joseph II, the son of Empress Maria Theresia, the abbey was threatened with dissolution. The ideology of the Enlightenment had a negative effect on the monastic spirit; the state interfered in matters of faith and church discipline. As part of a countermovement a theological institute for the formation of young members of the order was founded in 1802. The institute flourishes today as the “Papal Philosophical-Theological Institute Benedict XVI Heiligenkreuz,” with over 100 seminarians and young religious.

15. Under Joseph II the abbey was forced to take on the pastoral care of several parishes. Today the abbey has care of 17 parishes between Lake Neusiedel and the Vienna Woods.

16. At the end of the 19th century the Baroque interior fittings of the abbey church was removed and replaced by a Neo-Gothic ensemble of altars, with a baldachino over the main altar.

17. From 1938 to 1945 the abbey’s existence was threatened. Most of the monastery’s possessions were confiscated by the National Socialists, and many of the monks were imprisoned. After the Second World War the reform abbot Karl Braunstorfer (he served 1945-1968) worked for a revival of the monastic spirit. The liturgy was reformed along the lines laid out by the Second Vatican Council. A new Latin edition of the monastic breviary was made especially for Heiligenkreuz, and Gregorian Chant was again given pride of place. The dignified celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and the Gregorian Chant continue to be at the heart of the monks’ life in Heiligenkreuz.

18. Today Heiligenkreuz is the largest Cistercian monastery in Europe. The Sacred Liturgy is celebrated by the monks with reverence and a sense of mystery; there are numerous young men who follow their vocation and enter Heiligenkreuz. In the tradition of Benedictine hospitality the monks gladly welcome the numerous visitors who come seeking silence and an encounter with God.

P. Dr. Karl Wallner OCist, 2007