Sankt Gallen (German), French Saint-gall, town, capital of Sankt Gallen canton, northeastern Switzerland, in the Steinach Valley, just south of Lake Constance (Bodensee). In 612 the Celtic missionary St. Gall founded a hermitage on the site. Disciples joined him, and c. 720 the foundation became a Benedictine abbey under Abbot Otmar. Until the 11th century, the abbey school was the most important educational institution north of the Alps, and in its scriptorium were laid the foundations of the world-famed library. The town that developed around the abbey was ruled by the abbots, princes of the Holy Roman Empire after 1206. The abbey and the town allied with the Swiss Confederation in 1453 and 1454, respectively. Clerical rule ended with the introduction of the Reformation in 1524, and the town became the capital of the new canton formed in 1803, when the abbey was disendowed. The town’s outlying parishes were incorporated in 1918, when a communal constitution was adopted. Sankt Gallen has been a Roman Catholic episcopal see since 1846.
The most notable landmarks are the abbey church and the former monastic buildings. The church (1755–72), one of the finest Baroque structures in Switzerland, is now the Roman Catholic cathedral. The library (1758–67), with its unique Rococo hall, contains about 2,000 manuscripts, as well as numerous incunabula and books dating from the Carolingian and Ottonian empires. There is a commercial university, schools of textiles, embroidery, and fashion, several museums, a theatre, and a concert hall.
Sankt Gallen had a long association with linen and cotton textiles and early in the 20th century was a leading embroidery centre. The latter industry still flourishes but has been balanced by metalworking and the manufacture of clothing and glass. Well-known local events include the biennial Children’s Summer Festival, the biennial International Horse Show, and the Swiss National Fair for agriculture and dairying. The population is German-speaking and about evenly divided between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Pop. (1991 est.) city, 73,367; metropolitan area, 127,578.