The World’s Largest Hairball Museum
Grabs your attention, right? This is how a friend described the Mt. Angel Abbey Museum to my husband and I in the mid ’90s. We needed to “sell” our planned day trip to Mt. Angel Abbey to our two young sons. All I needed to say was that we were going to visit The World’s Largest Hairball Museum – and they were all in.
Turns out that, as with many claims in life, hyperbole was at work in this description. While the museum does not house the world’s largest hairball, it does have on display what’s reputed to be the biggest porcine (pig!) hairball on the planet. Not to worry: between the hairball and a host of other unique offerings, there was plenty in the museum to keep the kids (and parents) entertained.
But there’s much more to see on your visit to Mt. Angel Abbey, an easy one-hour drive from Portland, down I-5. And you don’t have to be Catholic – or even religious – to thoroughly enjoy your day trip.
A little history: Mt. Angel Abbey is a Benedictine monastery, founded by Swiss monks in 1882. Over the past 135 years, it has grown into a beautiful campus that includes a church, seminary, retreat house, library and more. Benedictines follow the “Rule of St. Benedict”: “All guests are to be received as Christ.” That translates into everyone you meet at the abbey being uber welcoming. It adds a special “warm and fuzzy” vibe to your visit.
And here’s the frugal part: Aside from your coffee drinks and that case of beer you might buy (see below), it’s all free. Here are a few highlights:
Walking Tour of the Abbey Grounds
The abbey is perched on a hill with grand views of the valley below, reminiscent – with a good imagination – of European hill towns. On the abbey website you’ll find a handy “Hilltop Walking Tour” map. Use it. You’ll see the following “attractions” (and more) as you stroll.
About That Museum
You’ll find the Abbey Museum in the basement of the monastery. Calling the museum eclectic is a gross understatement. Along with that hairball, it contains a huge collection of taxidermied animals and other Pacific Northwest curiosities as well as numerous religious artifacts.
The Abbey Library
If you’re an architecture aficionado, you will NOT want to miss the library. Designed by world famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the abbey library houses more than 225,000 theological and historical tomes in a stunning, light-filled building.
The Abbey Church
If you’ve brought along those rambunctious kids, you may want to pass on a stop in the abbey church. But, for adults, a few moments of silence in this Romanesque-style chapel can be a soothing part of your mini-pilgrimage.
The Coffee Shop and Bookstore
I am a Coffee Shop and Book Store Freak. I love them, can’t get enough of them. On a recent visit, my husband and I sat in this small cafe, sipping a latte and (confession time here!) eavesdropping on a group of monks at the next table, debating an esoteric theological issue. Where else could you have that experience? Heavenly!
Connected to the coffee shop is the bookstore and small gift shop. On the day we visited, beer brewed by the monks (called Black Habit) was available at the bookstore/gift shop. We purchased a case as a birthday gift for one of those same sons who ogled the hairball back in the ’90s. (Funny how things come full circle.)
Stations of the Cross
Part of your hike around the abbey should include a walk along the Stations of the Cross pathway (you’ll see the pathway on your drive up to the abbey). Fourteen of these stops – which represent the steps leading up to the crucifixion of Christ – dot the path. Each stop resembles an altar; the statues are 19th century German imports.
You will likely see modern-day pilgrims walking the path and stopping to pray at each station. As with all of your abbey visit, an air of respect should be maintained for those around you.
The Country’s Largest Glockenspiel?
Actually, you won’t find this attraction at the abbey – you’ll need to stop in Mt. Angel at the aptly-named Glockenspiel Restaurant to view what is claimed to be the biggest of these German time-keeping devices (with animated parts) in the country. The huge clock “performs” at regular posted times.
And the restaurant serves up a mean Ruben.
If You Go
You’ll find a wealth of information on the abbey’s informative website, including days and hours that each portion of the abbey is open. Be sure to use the very helpful map while you explore the grounds.