The Admont Christmas Manger
The Christmas manger of Admont is among the world-famous attractions of Admont Benedictine Abbey. This remarkable work of woodcarving is only unveiled in Admont Abbey Church on 24 December each year. The various figures were carved by Josef Stammel and coloured by painter Anton Pötschnigg; luckily, they all survived the disastrous fire at the Abbey in 1865.
The Nativity scene is housed in a neo-Gothic folding altar in the rearmost chapel of the nave. Its theme is three of the main feasts of the Christmas season: the Birth of Christ (24/25 December), the Adoration of the Magi (6 January) and the Circumcision of Christ (at the centre of the manger scene; 1 January). A ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ roundel in the sky above completes the composition. The figures were carved by Josef Stammel in 1755/56. The altar wings are closed again on 2 February (the Feast of Candlemas).
There are a wealth of symbolic allusions to be discovered in this manger scene with its numerous figures and details. These include the owl as an emblem of spiritual darkness (paganism) to which the radiance of Christ brings enlightenment. And there is the young shepherd who is bearing a loaf of bread that has a rhomboid form that hints at that of the coat of arms of Admont Abbey. The two fighting rams in the background allude to the fact that Christ was born under the sign of Capricorn (and is also a reference to an occasion when two Admont monks came to blows in the sacristy on Christmas Eve!). The colourful parrot represents the Jewish Pharisees while the three women in the temple personify the three Christian virtues of Love, Hope and Faith.
But the Christmas season at Admont is not just characterised by the opening of the marvel that is the Stammel manger for a few weeks to the gaze of the ever-fascinated observer; its unveiling is heralded by the now rare tradition of ‘Ringing in the Christ Child’ (Christkindleinläuten). Here in Admont, we begin preparing for the opening of the manger scene in the week of 17 – 23 December, when the bells are rung daily at 6.00 pm to announce the advent of the Feast of Christmas. It is a long-established practice throughout the town to go to a window and pray a decade of the Rosary as soon as the large bell rings out, while the monks in the Abbey at the same time sing before and after the Magnificat of the Vespers a so-called ‘O Antiphon’. Each of these commences with the interjection ‘O’ and their themes are the Biblical prophecies of the birth of the Redeemer.
The new guide about the manger is available in the museumsshop (Tel.: +43 (0)3613/23 12-604) or in the church.