The Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz are an order of Catholic monks that live in the heart of Vienna. In 2008, the order gained considerable attention for the major label release of a CD of Gregorian chant, called Chant: Music for the Soul. The monks stress that they are not looking to become pop stars or the next Backstreet Boys, but the money they will receive for the CD effort will fund their upkeep and many charitable pursuits.
The abbey occupied by the order is nearly 900 years old, and is a vast medieval construct with incredible historic value. The Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz have occupied the building since 1133 AD, when a young noble persuaded his wealthy father to support the efforts of the new Cistercian order. They have spiritual obligations in more than 20 local parishes, and operate some international programs providing aid to those studying to become monks.
In early 2008, the head of the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz, Father Karl Wallner, received an email about a search for spiritual musician being conducted by the Universal Classics record label. Father Wallner sent clips of the monks singing, and posted a YouTube video of their chants. Under the direction of Tom Lewis of Universal, the Cistercian Monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz were chosen to record an album of Gregorian chant for public release. The completed album was released in 2008 and has met with considerable media attention.
The life of the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz is simple and wholly devoted to spiritual pursuits. They follow a cycle of prayer constantly, not to ask for boons and help, but simply in order to praise God according to the order’s beliefs. In addition, the monks perform various charitable works throughout Austria, and help in nearby communities. For nearly 200 years, the monks have also run a small philosophical institution, at which many of them serve as teachers. In 2007, the abbey and school were visited by Pope Benedict, who gave the school special recognition by naming it a Papal Athenaeum.
Despite the media attention their CD has brought to the abbey, the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz continue to lead a simple life in their community. In interviews, they frequently express their gratefulness for the opportunity to share their chanting with so many people. In a world so often filled with commercialism and chart ratings, the music of the Cistercian monks of Stift Heiligenkreuz has an entirely different purpose: it is meant to praise and to worship, and bears little in common with Top 40 lists or MTV awards.