To The Hospice

Rate this Saint
(2 votes)

In 1994, we made our way to Switzerland, the WUSB, and eventually to The Hospice at the top of the St Bernard Pass. When we first arrived in Switzerland it was June and the Hospice was still snowed in - really! So after attending the WUSB show we headed for Venice and a day or two of canal cruising. It was as advertised, quite lovely, but I wouldn't suggest swimming in its waters. Then on to Lake Como for an eleven-course anniversary dinner - spectacular. We spent a delightful week on the Italian Riviera at St Remo before heading for the pass from the Italian side.

If you have seen the original "Italian Job" movie then you will know about the impressive switch-back roads that take you up into The Alps. I did the driving in our rental car while Toni more or less hid on the floor. After what seemed like hours to Toni, we reached the border crossing in front of the lake (pretty much the same view as shown in this wonderful old print). We could still see ten-foot snow banks on the side of the road leading up to the buildings themselves. Naturally there were loads of tourists, although we considered our breeder-selves to be superior to your run-of-the-mill tourist. This was it! The Hospice. The spiritual home of our breed. The sense of history was only slightly diminished by the brightly colored tour buses and souvenir stands hawking Chinese-made stuffed Saints. Never mind!  Once inside those forbidding stone walls you knew you were in the "real deal". 

This was where monks prayed and worked; where weary and cold pass climbers received a warm meal and a pint. This too was where the dogs watched as Napoleon and his army crossed over to invade and conquer Italy. A thousand years since the time of St. Bernard de Menthon. Over two thousand years since the Romans erected a temple in this same pass. What a feeling it was to stand there and let it all soak in.

And what of the dogs? There were perhaps a dozen, sleeping the day off in the outdoor kennel runs. They had the attitude of "when you've seen the first thousand crazy tourists, you've seen them all". The dogs and the runs were clean and in good shape. The type was average and we did not see any specialty winners on our visit but clearly that was beside the point. It was enough that they were still there.

Toni decided that she would drive down the Swiss side of the mountain pass. It seemed like a good idea until we went around the first curve and the passenger side of the road dropped off into infinity and certain death! Worse, there were no barriers. So Toni moved into the center of the roadway, which seemed like a good idea until we met a tour bus coming the other way. We ended up with the car's nose up against the rock face of the mountain and horns going off from fore and aft. Once I promised we would go back down the Italian side and take the tunnel back to Switzerland, Toni let me uncurl her fingers, take the driver's seat, and execute a flawless eight-point turn. Needless to say, there were tears.

We made our pilgrimage. It was wonderful. Every Saint fancier should have it on their "bucket list".