St. Gallen

St. Gallen
The Abbey Cathedral of St Gall and the old town
The Abbey Cathedral of St Gall and the old town
Coat of arms of St. Gallen
Coat of arms
Location of St. Gallen
St. Gallen is located in Switzerland
St. Gallen
St. Gallen
St. Gallen is located in Canton of St. Gallen
St. Gallen
St. Gallen
Coordinates: 47°25′27″N 9°22′15″E / 47°25′27″N 9°22′15″E / 47.42417; 9.37083

St. Gallen or traditionally St Gall, in German sometimes Sankt Gallen (About this soundSankt Gallen ; English: St Gall; French: Saint-Gall; Italian: San Gallo; Romansh: Son Gagl) is a Swiss town and the capital of the canton of St. Gallen. It evolved from the hermitage of Saint Gall, founded in the 7th century.[3] Today, it is a large urban agglomeration (with around 160,000 inhabitants) and represents the center of eastern Switzerland. Its economy consists mainly of the service sector. The town is home of the University of St. Gallen.

The main tourist attraction is the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Abbey's renowned library contains books from the 9th century.

The official language of St. Gallen is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect. The town has good transport links to the rest of the country and to neighbouring Germany and Austria. It also functions as the gate to the Appenzellerland.


Imperial City of St. Gallen

Reichsstadt Sankt Gallen
StatusState of the Holy Roman Empire (to 1499 / 1648)
Old Swiss Confederacy associate and protectorate (1454–1798)
CapitalSt. Gallen
Common languagesHigh Alemannic
Historical eraRenaissance, Baroque
• Town founded
10th century
• Gained Reichsfreiheit
17 August 1451
• Associate & protectorat of Old Swiss Confederacy

13 June 1454
• Swabian War: de facto independent from Holy Roman Empire
• Peace of Westphalia: de jure independence
• Helvetic Republic collapsed; town & abbey became part of newly founded canton of St. Gallen

Preceded by
Succeeded by
Abbey of St Gall
Canton of Säntis

Early history

The town of St. Gallen grew around the Abbey of St Gall, founded in the 8th century.[4]

The abbey is said to have been built at the site of the hermitage of Irish missionary Gallus, who according to legend had established himself by the river Steinach in AD 612.[5]

The monastery itself was founded by Saint Othmar in c. 720.[4]

The abbey prospered in the 9th century and became a site of pilgrimage and a center of trade, with associated guest houses, stables and other facilities, a hospital, one of the first monastery schools north of the Alps. By the tenth century, a settlement had grown up around the abbey.[4]

In 926 Magyar raiders attacked the abbey and surrounding town. Saint Wiborada, the first woman formally canonized by the Vatican,[6] reportedly saw a vision of the impending attack and warned the monks and citizens to flee. While the monks and the abbey treasure escaped, Wiborada chose to stay behind and was killed by the raiders.[7] Between 924 and 933 the Magyars again threatened the abbey, and its books were removed for safekeeping to Reichenau. Not all the books were returned.[8]

On 26 April 937 a fire consumed much of the abbey, spreading to the adjoining settlement. However, the library was spared.[8] About 954 a protective wall was raised around the abbey; by 975 abbot Notker finished the wall, and the adjoining settlement began growing into the town of St Gall.[8][5]

A wall with gates and towers was built in 953/954 under abbot Anno and 971-975 under abbot Notker, first establishing the abbey and its associated settlement as a town.[4]

Independence from the Abbey

From the later 12th century, the town of St. Gall increasingly pushed for independence from the abbey. In 1180, an imperial reeve, who was not answerable to the abbot, was installed in the town.[3]

In 1207, Abbot Ulrich von Sax was granted the rank of Imperial Prince (Reichsfürst) by Philip of Swabia, King of the Germans.[4][5] As an ecclesiastical principality, the Abbey of St. Gallen was to constitute an important territorial state and a major regional power in northern Switzerland.[4]

The city of St. Gallen proper progressively freed itself from the rule of the abbot. Abbot Wilhelm von Montfort in 1291 granted special privileges to the citizens.[3] By about 1353 the guilds, headed by the cloth-weavers guild, had gained control of the civic government.[5] In 1415 the city bought its liberty from the German king Sigismund.[5]

Ally of the Swiss Confederacy

In 1405, the Appenzell estates of the abbot successfully rebelled and in 1411 they became allies of the Old Swiss Confederation. A few months later, the town of St. Gallen also became an ally. They joined the "everlasting alliance" as full members of the Confederation in 1454 and in 1457 became completely free from the abbot.[5]

However, in 1451 the abbey became an ally of Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus who were all members of the Confederation.

Ulrich Varnbüler was an early mayor of St. Gallen and perhaps one of the most colorful. Hans, the father of Ulrich, was prominent in city affairs in St. Gallen in the early 15th century. Ulrich entered public affairs in the early 1460s and attained the various offices and honours that are available to a talented and ambitious man. He demonstrated fine qualities as field commander of the St. Gallen troops in the Burgundian Wars.

In the Battle of Grandson (1476) his troops were part of the advance units of the Confederation and took part in their famous attack. A large painting of Ulrich returning triumphantly to a hero's welcome in St. Gallen is still displayed in St. Gallen.

After the war, Varnbüler often represented St. Gallen at the various parliaments of the Confederation. In December 1480, Varnbüler was offered the position of mayor for the first time. From that time on, he served in several leadership positions and was considered the city's intellectual and political leader.

According to Vadian, who understood his contemporaries well, "Ulrich was a very intelligent, observant, and eloquent man who enjoyed the trust of the citizenry to a high degree."

His reputation among the Confederates was also substantial. However, in the late 1480s, he became involved in a conflict that was to have serious negative consequences for him and for the city.

St. Gallen in 1548
St. Gallen in 1642

In 1463, Ulrich Rösch had assumed the management of the abbey of Saint Gall. He was an ambitious prelate, whose goal was to return the abbey to prominence by every possible means, following the losses of the Appenzell War.

His restless ambition offended the political and material interests of his neighbours. When he arranged for the help of the Pope and the Emperor to carry out a plan to move the abbey to Rorschach on Lake Constance, he encountered stiff resistance from the St. Gallen citizenry, other clerics, and the Appenzell nobility in the Rhine Valley, who were concerned for their holdings.

At this point, Varnbüler entered the conflict against the prelate. He wanted to restrain the increase of the abbey's power and at the same time increase the power of the town that had been restricted in its development. For this purpose he established contact with farmers and Appenzell residents (led by the fanatical Hermann Schwendiner) who were seeking an opportunity to weaken the abbot.

Initially, he protested to the abbot and the representatives of the four sponsoring Confederate cantons (Zurich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus) against the construction of the new abbey in Rorschach. Then on 28 July 1489 he had armed troops from St. Gallen and Appenzell destroy the buildings already under construction, an attack known as the Rorschacher Klosterbruch.[5]

When the Abbot complained to the Confederates about the damage and demanded full compensation, Ulrich responded with a countersuit, and in cooperation with Schwendiner rejected the arbitration efforts of the non-partisan Confederates. He motivated the clerics from Wil to Rorschach to abandon their loyalty to the abbey and spoke against the abbey at a meeting of the townspeople at Waldkirch, where the popular league was formed. He was confident that the four sponsoring cantons would not intervene with force, due to the prevailing tensions between the Confederation and the Swabian League. He was strengthened in his resolve when the people of St. Gallen re-elected him as their highest magistrate in 1490.

Invasion of 1490

Ulrich Varnbüler had made a serious miscalculation. In early 1490, the four cantons decided to carry out their duty to the abbey and to invade the St. Gallen canton with an armed force. The people of Appenzell and the local clerics submitted to this force without significant resistance, while the city of St. Gallen braced itself for a fight to the finish. However, when they learned that their compatriots had given up the fight, they lost confidence, and they agreed to a settlement that greatly restricted the city's power and burdened the city with serious penalties and reparation payments.

Ulrich, overwhelmed by the responsibility for his political decisions, panicked in the face of the approaching enemy who wanted him apprehended. His life was in great danger, and he was forced to escape from the city disguised as a messenger. He made his way to Lindau and to Innsbruck and the court of King Maximilian. The victors confiscated those of his properties that lay outside of the city of St. Gallen and banned him from the Confederation. Ulrich then appealed to the imperial court (as did Schwendiner, who had fled with him) for the return of his property.

The suit had the support of Friedrich II and Maximilian and the trial threatened to drag on for years: it was continued by Ulrich's sons Hans and Ulrich after his death in 1496, and eventually the Varnbülers regained their properties. However, other political ramifications resulted from the court action, because the Confederation gained ownership of the city of St. Gallen and rejected the inroads of the empire. Thus, the conflict strengthened the relationship between the Confederation and the city of St. Gallen. On the other hand, the matter deepened the alienation between Switzerland and the German Holy Roman Empire, which eventually led to a total separation after the Swabian War.

Despite the unpropitious end of his career, Ulrich Varnbüler is immortalized in a famous woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, which is now part of the Smithsonian Institution's woodcut collection in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Among Varnbüler's sons, the eldest (Hans/Johann) became the mayor of Lindau. He is the patriarch of the Baden and Württemberg Varnbülers.


Starting in 1526 then-mayor and humanist Joachim von Watt (Vadian) introduced the Protestant Reformation into St. Gallen. The town converted to the new religion while the abbey remained Roman Catholic. While iconoclastic riots forced the monks to flee the city and remove images from the city's churches, the fortified abbey remained untouched.[9] The abbey would remain a Catholic stronghold in the Protestant city until 1803.

Modern history

In 1798 Napoleon invaded the Old Swiss Confederation, destroying the Ancien Régime. Under the Helvetic Republic both the abbey and the city lost their power and were combined with Appenzell into the Canton of Säntis. The Helvetic Republic was widely unpopular in Switzerland and was overthrown in 1803. Following the Act of Mediation the city of St. Gallen became the capital of the Protestant Canton of St. Gallen.

One of the first acts of the new canton was to suppress the abbey.[9] The monks were driven from the abbey; the last abbot died in Muri in 1829.[10] In 1846 a rearrangement in the local dioceses made St. Gall a separate diocese, with the abbey church as its cathedral and a portion of the monastic buildings designated the bishop's residence.

Gustav Adolf, former king of Sweden, spent the last years of his life in St. Gallen, and died there in 1837.

A view of St. Gallen ca. 1900 by Spelterini

In the 15th century, St. Gallen became known for producing quality textiles. In 1714, the zenith was reached with a yearly production of 38,000 pieces of cloth. The first depression occurred in the middle of the 18th century, caused by strong foreign competition and reforms in methods of cotton production. But St. Gallen recovered and an even more prosperous era arrived.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the first embroidery machines were developed in St. Gallen. In 1910 the embroidery production constituted the largest export branch (18% of the total export value) in Switzerland and more than half of the worldwide production of embroidery originated in St. Gallen. One fifth of the population of the eastern part of Switzerland was involved with the textile industry. However, World War I and the Great Depression caused another severe crisis for St. Gallen embroidery. Only in the 1950s did the textile industry recover somewhat. Nowadays, because of competition and the prevalence of computer-operated embroidery machines, only a reduced textile industry has survived in St. Gallen; but its embroidered textiles are still popular with Parisian haute couture designers.

Other Languages
Afrikaans: St. Gallen
Alemannisch: St. Gallen
العربية: سانت غالن
تۆرکجه: سن‌گلان
Bân-lâm-gú: St. Gallen
беларуская: Санкт-Гален
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Санкт-Гален
български: Санкт Гален
brezhoneg: Sankt Gallen
Чӑвашла: Санкт-Галлен
čeština: St. Gallen
Deutsch: St. Gallen
Ελληνικά: Σανκτ Γκάλεν
español: San Galo
Esperanto: Sankt-Galo
euskara: Sankt Gallen
فارسی: سنت گالن
français: Saint-Gall
Gaeilge: Sankt Gallen
Gàidhlig: St. Gallen
galego: San Galo
한국어: 장크트갈렌
հայերեն: Սանկտ Գալլեն
hrvatski: St. Gallen
Bahasa Indonesia: St. Gallen (kota)
Interlingue: Sant Gallen
íslenska: St. Gallen
italiano: San Gallo
ქართული: სანქტ-გალენი
қазақша: Санкт-Галлен
latviešu: Sanktgallene
Lëtzebuergesch: St. Gallen
lietuvių: Sankt Galenas
lumbaart: San Gal (SG)
Dorerin Naoero: St. Gallen
нохчийн: Санкт-Галлен
Nordfriisk: St. Gallen
norsk nynorsk: St. Gallen
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: St. Gallen
Piemontèis: San Gal
polski: St. Gallen
português: São Galo (cidade)
română: St. Gallen
rumantsch: Son Gagl
Runa Simi: Sankt Gallen
русский: Санкт-Галлен
Scots: St. Gallen
shqip: St. Gallen
sicilianu: San Gallu
Simple English: St. Gallen
slovenčina: St. Gallen
slovenščina: St. Gallen
ślůnski: St. Gallen
српски / srpski: Санкт Гален
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: St. Gallen
svenska: Sankt Gallen
татарча/tatarça: Санкт-Галлен
Türkçe: St. Gallen
українська: Санкт-Галлен
Tiếng Việt: St. Gallen
Volapük: St. Gallen
Winaray: St. Gallen
中文: 圣加仑