Pannonhalma – listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site on the 1000nd anniversary of its foundation in 1996 – illustrates in an exceptional manner the structure and setting of an early Christian Monastery that has evolved over 1,000 years of continuous use. Its location and the early date of its foundation bear unique witness to the propagation and continuity of Christianity in Eastern Europe.
Benedictine monks – monks of the first christian order of Europe – came in 996 from Italy and the Bohemian and German lands to this sacred mountain in the former Roman province of Pannonia. They came to the aid of Prince Geza and his son Saint Stephen I, the first king of Hungary. The Benedictine monastery set up here as the eastern bridgehead of medieval European culture retained that role for 1,000 years, with only brief interruptions. It exercised an important cultural and juridical role in Hungary, and its abbots played a leading role in public life.
The first monastery is known only from records, as it was burned down at the beginning of the 12th century. Reconstruction took place slowly, until a named Uros became Abbot (1207-43). In 1472 King Matthias took over the monastery and undertook an extensive renovation. The present cloister and other buildings with a religious function were built at that time, and the monastery was fortified againts a possible Turkish invasion. Monastic life first became difficult, when the monastery was badly damaged by fire and largely abandoned in 1575, to be occupied together with the nearby city of Győr by the Turks in 1594. The Community returned in 1638. The ‘Enlightenment’ of the 18th century had its impact on the monastic communities, which were judged according to their contribution to the state. The order was re-established in 1802. In most cases the monks moved out into houses in neighbouring towns and the monastic buildings were turned over to education, but at Pannonhalma monastic life continued, with the school being incorporated into the monastery itself. The Baroque elements of the monastery, such as the refectory and the famous library were added at this period.
The abbey church, which has the status of basilica, has Romanesque, early Gothic, late Gothic and Renaissance parts, which were brought into harmony with each other during the restoration of the 19th century. The late Gothic cloister – built in 1486 – running along the south side of the church is connected to the chatedral and the subchurch’s crypt by the most valuable architectural sculpture of the monastery, the Porta Speciosa, the Ornamental Gate. A new library was added at the beginning of the 19th century, and there was a major reconstruction of the cloister and church in 1868-76. The present classical style library with its 350 thousand volumes is one of Europes richest monastery libraries. The most valuable pieces of the collection are the incunabula and codices. Its stock of manuscripts boasts unparalleled treasures relating to the Hungarian Church and world culture.
A secondary school and students’ house were added in 1939-41, the gift of the Italian government of the period. After 1945 Hungary became a communist country, and in 1950 the properties of the Order and the schools run by them were confiscated by the state, not to be returned until after the end of communism in Hungary. At the present time there are 360 secondary students, taught by eleven Benedictine monks assisted by some thirty lay teachers. There are in all 68 monks at Pannonhalma, where ether activities include a theological academy and an institution for old people.
The principal elements of the area around the monastic complex are the forest and the botanical garden. The forest, on the eastern slopes of the Pannonhalma landscape, is largely the traditional oak forest of this region. The flora of the botanical garden is composed of two groups: half forest trees and plants, of mixed age, and half hedgerow and park species, both native and exotic. The lavender garden at the foot of the Archabbey has been cultivated from 18th century. In the ensuing decades, monks living in Pannonhalma did not give up hope of resuscitating also their wine-making traditions, and time being their winery is situated on a 2000 m² plot with a capacity of 3000 hls.