The "plant chaplain"
from the Salzkammergut
The ‘Plant Priest’ of the Salzkammergut
In the European abbey of Gut Aich in St. Gilgen on Lake Wolfgang, Prior Johannes Pausch cultivates old plant knowledge in a new format.
Not far from the northern shore of Lake Wolfgang in the centre of the Salzburger Salzkammergut sits the European abbey of Gut Aich. Father and Prior Johannes Pausch is the leader of the 25-year old monastic community. Born in 1949 in Parkstein, Germany, today he administrates communication between employees and the networking of internal projects within the abbey. Gut Aich is known for its traditional, European monastic medicine. Five pillars provide the basis for this form of healing: nature and natural experience, movement, learning and counselling, treatment and living. In terms of living, Prior Johannes Pausch emphasises living in this heavenly corner of the world as well as living in the ‘house’ of one’s own body. These various aspects all contribute toward ‘healing’. This holistic therapeutic approach is a significant factor for success. Father and Prior Johannes Pausch has been committed to plant knowledge since the age of seven. He has amassed his experiences in 26 books. In conversations with the plant expert, it becomes clear that most plants have even more extensive powers than their associated healing effects.
Caretaker of communication
At the beginning of 2019, Father Johannes Pausch was newly chosen to become the prior of the Gut Aich Abbey. A youthful charm resonates from the 70 year old. To questions regarding the duties of a prior, he answers, “To hold everything here together. I’m something like a caretaker. I make sure that leadership functions, namely the communication between the individual areas of the abbey. A priestly technician so to speak.” Having more than 40 employees in completely different areas requires networking. The abbey owns eight gardens. The Garden of Silence is located in the interior courtyard of the main building. Adjacent to the kitchen, one can find the kitchen garden. Herbs, various types of lettuce and vegetables from the home-grown cultivation find their way onto the dinner table of the monastic community in the form of dishes like spring herb strudel or stinging nettle-wild garlic spinach. One of Prior Pausch’s favourite gardens is the meadow on the Zwölferhorn Mountain. “There isn’t much for us to do there except to protect it. That too must be learned. It is a treasure chest of healing plants and we mustn’t pillage it,” he states, describing the duties in the abbey’s alpine garden. Six additional gardens are fostered and care for by the experienced employees of the abbey.
The abbey’s production workshops are responsible for processing the healing herbs and plants. Colourful linen coverings give bulbous glass containers, in which tinctures and liqueurs are stored, a vibrant appearance. Waltraud has been working for the abbey for almost 20 years. She is the resident ‘herb fairy’. “One could almost say, our herb witch,” acknowledges the prior in summarising the work of his employee. A wide ‘communication arc’ spans from production to the sale of the homemade ointments, tinctures and other products. In the sale room, one can find a large selection of these treasures. Herbal medicine can also be subsequently used in the psychosomatic combination therapy. This is a therapeutic offering of the Gut Aich Abbey provided in rooms above the herbal shop. Prior Johannes Pausch can often be found working there – as communicator, but also offering crisis intervention for all those seeking his advice.
The daisy – a gift from heaven
Father Johannes Pausch associates his first lasting contact with the healing powers of plants with a ‘near crisis’ situation. During his time in Kindergarten, he experienced the ‘drama of the spring princesses’ every year. Father Pausch smilingly remembers, “It was always exciting. At the beginning of spring, the girls made crowns of daisies, donned bedsheets and pretended to be princesses. And we boys, we might be allowed to carry the train at most.” At the time, his grandmother lovingly surmised her grandson’s frustration regarding this perceived injustice. She would butter some bread, sprinkle chives and daises on the top and arrange a face of radishes. And presto – the tummy ache and frustration were gone. “The daisy is, quite simply, the genuine childhood plant,” explains the leader of the St. Gilgen centre for monastic medicine. “Even the character of the plant has childlike traits. Strong and resilient, it’s one of the first plants in the yearly cycle. The daisy strengthens children mentally and spiritually,” states the plant expert in describing the local flower. Father Johannes doesn’t reduce the characteristics and impact of a plant to its mere contents and active ingredients. “Plants can do so much more. In aroma therapy, plants and their fragrances are used for spiritual and mental healing. Even the image heals. When I look at something and feel happiness, that is healing. When I see something that moves me, that is healing. When I look at something and it excites me, that is also healing.”
Life is communication
At age 7, Prior Johannes Pausch first created his own herbarium. The village priest recognized his interest in plants and gave him a thick, empty book. He taught him how to create a herbarium – from pressing the plants to writing a description. This fascination for nature further intensified during Pausch’s studies (theology, psychology, philosophy and education). During his praxis, he took on the care of several older people. The group included knowledgeable healers. “Medicinal plants are the oldest communication teachers in the world. They communicate with one other in the plant world. Plants don’t live in isolation,” Johannes Pausch explains with excitement. In the past, the exchange of knowledge regarding medicinal plants was a daily occurrence and brought people together. “You simply went to the neighbour and asked if he had something for a strong cough,” states Pausch. “Once there, you often stayed for a while. You exchanged knowledge about herbs and household remedies and gave one another tips. That was good and lasting communication.” This approach is still used today in the abbey. Knowledge is passed along. Interesting information about herbs can be obtained in seminars and training courses. For example, on 11th May, one can learn a great deal about the powers of medicinal plants during the Monastic Medicine Day.
Nestled in the lush and vegetative landscape surrounding St. Gilgen, the abbey is located in the Salzburg section of the Salzkammergut. Plum trees border the main building. A natural monument – a 900-year old holly – towers in front of the entrance to the in-house goldsmith. In the distinguished workshop, monstrances and chalices in need of renovation wait to be restored to their original glory and function by gold and silversmith, Rossano G. Passari. Also in this part of the abbey, signs of communication emerge. Wedding rings and fine jewellery of gold and silver can be personally manufactured under guidance.
From the appreciation of things and how they relate
In the Gut Aich Abbey, not only is old knowledge appreciated but also the value of old things. At the entrance to the Garden of Silence hangs a large wind chime made of old iron pipes. “I find it very important, to create something new from used materials,” the prior explains. His focus is on the appreciation of what exists. “Our paradise is here on Earth. It is always what we make of it. Naturally, it can also be hell. The handling of our resources is alarming. It’s actually really simple. We should care for our environment. Everyone can contribute. Nature needs insects. They are indispensable. As a spring project, everyone should plan to make a small insect hotel,” the nature-friendly priest suggests. A first-hand impulse. For the preservation of this fascinating plant world and its intrinsic powers.