Fire and Flame – The ‘Great Fire’ of Admont: 1865 to today
The theme of our special exhibition for 2015 was the disastrous fire of April 1865. This catastrophe was the worst calamity to befall the Abbey since its foundation in 1045 . 2015 marked the 150th anniversary of the event.
Valuable artefacts were consumed by the flames
The fire destroyed large sections of the town of Admont and nearly the whole of the Abbey structure together with the Abbey church. Valuable artefacts in the various collections held by the Abbey were also consumed by the flames although fortunately the library room and its books were saved. The structures of the ‘old building’ dating to the 17th century had to be completely demolished. The three large wings of the ‘new building’ were largely restored. But the reconstruction work was never fully completed.
Consequences of the fire
Entitled ‘FIRE AND FLAME’, the special exhibition of 2015 told the story of this unparalleled event and its far-reaching consequences for the Abbey. Two of these were the construction of the new Abbey church, the first major neo-Gothic religious structure in Austria, which was erected on the foundations of the old church, while over the years 1866 – 1906, Father Gabriel Strobl rebuilt the Natural History Museum collection following the loss of the original collection.
Overview of the exhibition
The combination of previously never before displayed exhibits provided the visitor with insight into the extent of the destruction, the complexity of the disruption and the challenges associated with reconstruction. The exhibition also dealed with the topic of firefighting then and now. Items on loan from local fire brigades and the add a real spark to what was on display. To be seen were also numerous views of the town and Abbey prior to and just after the fire, including stereoscopic images captured in 1860 (just five years before the fire), that throwed an entirely new light on the Abbey and town of Admont. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the Abbey rose again from the embers of this tragedy to a new life.
The contemporary art section considered the ‘Aspects of fire’ to be found in paintings, sculptures, prints and art photography of the in-house collection that has been growing since 1997. Fire as a phenomenon is remarkably diverse! There were artworks that depict fires, red-hot artworks and artworks that showed the traces of expose to fire. And there were artists who burn with the fire of creativity. Rather like the fervour of belief, the ardour of collecting had itself much in common with fire and flame while the enthusiasm for a cause or idea can also ignite things.
We hope that the exhibition gave fire the imagination of our visitors! A recently redesigned room in the Natural History Museum was also be opened to visitors from 2015; it housed an exhibition that was being staged in collaboration with Gesäuse National Park. You have been able to witness a ‘dialogue’ between a 19th century scientist in the person of the Admont Benedictine Father Gabriel Strobl and a modern researcher. Visitors discovered the world of Gesäuse National Park in the form of a spectacular sound installation and explored the multifaceted microcosm and macrocosm of the natural wonders of this region!