1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/St Gall (town)

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ST GALL, capital of the Swiss canton of that name, is situated in the upland valley of the Steinach, 2195 ft. above the sea-level. It is by rail 9 m. S.W. of Rorschach, its port on the lake of Constance, and 53 m. E. of Zürich. The older or central portion of the town retains the air of a small rural capital, but the newer quarters present the aspect of a modern commercial centre. At either extremity considerable suburbs merge in the neighbouring towns of Tablat and of Straubenzell. Its chief building is the abbey church of the celebrated old monastery. This has been a cathedral church since 1846. In its present form it was constructed in 1756–1765. The famous library is housed in the former palace of the abbot, and is one of the most renowned in Europe by reason of its rich treasures of early MSS. and printed books. Other portions of the monastic buildings are used as the offices of the cantonal authorities, and contain the extensive archives both of this monastery and of that of Pfafers. The ancient churches of St Magnus (Old Catholics) and of St Lawrence (Protestant) were restored in the 19th century. The town library, which is rich in Reformation and post-Reformation MSS. and books, is in the buildings of the cantonal school. The museum contains antiquarian, historical and natural history collections, while the new museum of industrial art has an extensive collection of embroideries of all ages and dates. There are a number of fine modern buildings, such as the Bourse. The town is the centre of the Swiss muslin, embroidery and lace trade. About 10,000 persons were in 1900 occupied in and near the town with the embroidery industry, and about 49,000 in the canton. Cold and fogs prevail in winter (though the town is protected against the north wind), but the heat in summer is rarely intense. In 1900 the population was 33,116 (having just doubled since 1870), of whom almost all were German-speaking, while the Protestants numbered 17,572, the Catholics (Roman or “Old”) 15,006 and the Jews 419.

The town of St Gall owes its origin to St Gall, an Irish hermit, who in 614, built his cell in the thick forest which then covered the site of the future monastery, and lived there, with a few companions, till his death in 640. Many pilgrims later found their way to his cell, and about the middle of the 8th century the collection of hermits’ dwellings was transformed into regularly organized Benedictine monastery. For the next three centuries this was one of the chief seats of learning and education in Europe. About 954 the monastery and its buildings were surrounded by walls as a protection against the Saracens, and this was the origin of the town. The temporal powers of the abbots vastly increased, while in the 13th century the town obtained divers privileges from the emperor and from the abbot, who about 1205 became a prince of the Empire. In 1311 St Gall became a free imperial city, and about 1353 the gilds, headed by that of the cloth-weavers, obtained the control of the civic government, while in 1415 it bought its liberty from the German king Sigismund. This growing independence did not please the abbot, who struggled long against it and his rebellious subjects in Appenzell, which formed the central portion of his dominions. After the victory of the Appenzellers at the battle of the Stoss (1405) they became (1411) “allies” of the Swiss confederation, as did the town of St Gall a few months later, this Connexion becoming an “everlasting” alliance in 1454, while in 1457 the town was finally freed from the abbot. The abbot, too, became (in 1451) the ally of Zürich, Lucerne, Schwyz and Glarus. In 1468 he bought the county of the Toggenburg from the representatives of its counts, a family which had died out in 1436, and in 1487 built a monastery above Rorschach as a place of refuge against the turbulent citizens, who, however, destroyed it in 1489. The Swiss intervened to protect the abbot, who (1490) concluded an alliance with them which reduced his position almost to that of a “subject district.” The townsmen adopted the Reformation in 1524, and this new cause of difference further envenomed their relations with the abbots. Both abbot and town were admitted regularly to the Swiss diet, occupying a. higher position than the rest of the “allies” save Bienne, which was on the same footing. But neither succeeded in its attempts to be received a full member of the Confederation, the abbot being too much like a petty monarch and at the same time a kind of “subject” already, while the town could not help much in the way of soldiers. In 1798 and finally in 1805 the abbey was secularized, while out of its dominions (save the Upper Toggenburg, but with the Altstätten district, held since 1490 by the Swiss) and those of the town the canton Säntis was formed, with St Gall as capital.  (W. A. B. C.)