Via Francigena: the St. Bernard Dogs

The Great St. Bernard Pass (2,476 m.), the highest point of the Via Francigena, is inseparably linked to the famous dogs that contributed to its popularity and are related to the image of Switzerland. Their presence has been attested at the Great St. Bernard hospice since the second half of the 17th century and they have really helped the monks to assist travellers who climbed the pass. The motto of the hospice, founded by St. Bernard of Montjoux around 1050, bears witness of the commitment of this place to hospitality: “Here Christ is adored and nourished” (Hic Christus adoratur et pascitur).

St. Bernard dogs have acquired a reputation of rescue dogs, especially in case of avalanche. The famous Barry, born in the early 19th century, is estimated to have rescued nearly forty people. A soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, who crossed the Pass in 1800, wrote in a letter: “ there are big dogs at this monastery, which seek travellers missing in the snow; they locate them and give them the eau de vie contained in a keg around their neck and bring them back home; I caressed them. They’re very tame”.

You can learn more about this story, the history of  the Pass, the hospice and its dogs at Barryland in Martigny, where these legendary dogs are still bred today. And where you will also find a section dedicated to the Via Francigena. In the vicinity, a section of the ancient Ro- man road still shows evidence that the Alps have been crossed via the Great St. Bernard Pass since ancient times. http://www.barryland.ch/

Christian Schülé

President - Président - Presidente Association du Chablais

The article is taken from the latest issue of the official AEVF magazine "Via Francigena". The magazine, published by Studio Guidotti, can be consulted free of charge online at www.rivistaviafrancigena.it. Lots of news, information and interviews to read at a slow pace in English, French and Italian. 

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