Engelberg greetings: Swiss Abbot makes history at Oktoberfest

October 2017 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community

DSC_8452By Steve Ritchie

A moment of history was made at the 2017 Mount Angel Oktoberfest.

It took place at a few minutes past
7 p.m. on Saturday, in a very lively Weingarten that was packed to the rafters. Oktoberfest President Chris Bischoff introduced Abbot Christian Meyer, OSB, from Kloster Engelberg, a Benedictine monastery in Switzerland, to an appreciative audience.

It was the first time in the 52-year history of Oktoberfest that the festival was graced with a visit from the leader of the nearly 900-year-old Swiss religious community which founded Mount Angel Abbey through the efforts of Fr. Adelheim Odermatt, and inspired the city’s name change from Fillmore to Mount Angel.

Abbot Christian was accompanied on stage by Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, OSB, of Mount Angel Abbey and Fr. Philip Waibel, OSB, pastor of St. Mary Parish. Both abbots spoke briefly before leading festival-goers in prayer and joining Bischoff – and the packed house – in a toast. 

Abbot Christian is the 59th Abbot of Engelberg Abbey (as it is known in English), which was founded in 1120. He arrived in Portland just four hours before the appearance at the Weingarten, but the long day didn’t appear to dampen his spirits or his willingness to engage in conversation over the polka music.

“I’m a little bit tired,” he said, sitting down for dinner in the Weingarten with his companions. “But this, the gemutlichkeit, makes the tiredness go away.” (Gemutlichkeit, a German word, is impossible to translate literally but conveys a feeling of “warmth, friendliness and good cheer” according to Wikipedia.)

The current and previous abbots of Engelberg Abbey have visited Mount Angel Abbey before, but never during the Oktoberfest celebration, when Mount Angel is at its best. The timing of this visit was perfect, though, as the festival highlights the heritage of the town, as well as the bounty of the harvest.

In journeying from his previous stop at Conception Abbey in Missouri, Abbot Christian was following in the footsteps of Mount Angel Abbey’s founder. With the blessing of his superior at Engelberg, Fr. Adelhelm Odermatt traveled through many parts of the Midwest and West in 1881-82, looking for the right place to establish a new religious community to serve both Native Americans and the newly-arrived settlers. He wrote to his Abbot, “Oregon is said to be a kind of Paradise, if one can speak of such a thing on this earth.”

Fr. Adelhelm evidently found his earthly paradise on the butte just east of the small town which would become Mount Angel. As Bischoff noted in his introduction of Abbot Christian, the existing community of German settlers “were so eager to have the monks as neighbors, they pledged a cow and $1,200 toward a monastery within the space of two days.” 

Tall and youthful-looking, Abbot Christian has a ready smile and a quick wit. He spoke fondly of attending the festival in his town, and said he joins a group of yodelers in performing at it. And, no, he added, he would not be yodeling in Mount Angel, noting, as any good Benedictine monk must, “I am not a solo act!”

His impression of our Oktoberfest? Lifting his arm to gesture at the crowd, he said, “I like this (festival) because it is life.”

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