Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labour at certain times and at other times in devout reading.
(From Chapter 48 of the Rule of St. Benedict).
The Abbey of St. Gall was founded in woodlands near the Steinach waterfall in 612. From 747 onwards, the abbey followed the Rule of St. Benedict, which prescribes the contemplative study of literature (on the assumption that a library is available). The first indication that such a library existed at St. Gall is given, albeit indirectly, in the famous plan of the abbey dating from around 820. This two-storey building, comprising a library and a scriptorium, is shown as a simple quadratic ground plan bordering the church in the angle between the eastern choir and the northern part of the transversal nave.
During the first few centuries of its existence, the abbey grew rapidly, becoming a flourishing spiritual and cultural centre, famous for its writings and the illumination of manuscripts. A number of the abbey’s creative monks made important contributions to the cultural history of Europe. For example, Wolfcoz, Folchart and Sintram were well-known illuminators of manuscripts. Then there were illustrious poets and musicians such as Ratpert, Tuotilo, Notker the Stammerer and the Ekkeharts, not to mention Notker the German, who was a master of the Old High German Language. In the St. Gall manuscripts we find a synthesis between Antique, Alemannic and Christian ideals.
For a long time, the rapidly growing collection of books was kept in the so-called Hartmut Tower, which had been built at the end of the 9th century. In 1553 they were transferred to the new two-storey library. Twelve polychrome keystones from this Renaissance library (which was demolished in 1758) are on display in the Lapidarium. Between 1758 and 1767 the abbots Cölestin Gugger von Staudach and Beda Angehrn commissioned the building of the magnificent Baroque hall, which was then decorated and fitted out by master craftsmen from the region of Lake Constance. Today, the Baroque hall of the library is considered to be one of the finest of its kind.