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The abbey was founded in 1091 by the Spanheim Dukes of Carinthia on the site of their ancestral castle.
In 1787 Emperor Joseph II dissolved it, but in 1809, under the Prince-Abbot Dr. Berthold Rottler, monks from St. Blaise's Abbey in the Black Forest, which had also just been dissolved, moved into the premises. In 1940 the abbey was dissolved again by the National Socialists but the monks were able to return when it was reopened in 1947. Today it is the oldest operational monastery in Carinthia.
Within the abbey precinct there is a Romanesque basilica dating from the end of the 12th century. After a fire in 1367 a Gothic vaulted ceiling was added, painted with 44 frescoes by the Tyrolean masters Friedrich and Michael Pacher.
The interior decoration of the church by the Styrian artist Philipp Jakob Straub dates from the 18th century. Beneath the Baroque high altar is a crypt, in which are the coffins of 13 members of the Habsburg family.
- St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal was recently selected as the main motif of a very high value collectors' coin: the Austrian St. Paul's Abbey in the Lavanttal commemorative coin, minted in October 10, 2007. The obverse displays a view of the abbey buildings nestling on the wooded hill above the town while the reverse shows the South Portal of the church; built in 1618.
- The abbey possesses one of the largest collections of art in Europe, including graphics, coins, sacred art, and paintings by among others Rubens, Van Dyck, Dürer, Holbein and Kremser Schmidt, as well as an extensive and important library of over 180,000 books and manuscripts from between the 5th and 18th centuries.
- The Benedictines of St. Paul also run a secondary school ("Gymnasium").
- Schatzhaus Kärntens. Landesausstellung St. Paul 1991. 900 Jahre Benediktinerstift. Band I: Katalog. Universitätsverlag Carinthia, Klagenfurt 1991. ISBN 3-85378-376-7
- Schatzhaus Kärntens. Landesausstellung St. Paul 1991. 900 Jahre Benediktinerstift. Band II: Beiträge. Universitätsverlag Carinthia, Klagenfurt 1991. ISBN 3-85378-377-5
- Österreichische Kunsttopographie. Band 37: Die Kunstdenkmäler des Benediktinerstiftes St. Paul im Lavanttal und seiner Filialkirchen, ed. Karl Ginhart. Vienna 1969.
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- (German) St. Paul's Abbey website