Just outside the city in the southern part of the Wienerwald or the Vienna Woods is a majestic Cistercian monastery, said to be the oldest continuously active and inhabited in the world. Situated in the quaint village of Heiligenkreuz, the serene monastery was founded in the 12th century by St. Leopold III, then the Margrave of Austria in response to his son Otto’s request to have a Cistercian monastery in Lower Austria. It was called “Heiligenkreuz” in honor of the monks’ devotion to the redeeming power of the Holy Cross. The Gothic-Romanesque monastery is believed to be one of the most beautiful and well-preserved monasteries in the world. There are three high windows above the entrance representing the Holy Trinity. In the middle of the church is a high neo-Gothic altar with a canopy hanging over it and a painted wooden cross. There is also a sacristy with paintings and frescoes made by Grophoro Tenckalla and Antonio Aliprandi; a Fountain House; a funeral chapel where the bodies of deceased monks are laid to rest for a 24-hour vigil before being buried; a reading corridor; a fraterie; a courtyard and a cloister. The abbey itself is a repository of significant religious artifacts collected over centuries.
What makes it more impressive is that the traditional functions and structures of a monastery has been preserved and are still being observed and practiced to this day. From the original twelve monks who first settled in the abbey, today there are about 80 monks who continue the work started by its founders. A philosophical and theological institute has also been built in the property and is now one of the biggest and most esteemed academic institutions for educating German-speaking priests. Heiligenkreuz is also famous the world over for promoting the Gregorian chants.