Here we are on top of the Great St Bernard Pass. Fortunately there was a short window of opportunity in the weather this morning from 8.30 when we decided to go, until 12.00 when we arrived. After that the clouds descended and the rain fell.
The walk up here was a classic alpine trek. We were soon above the tree line, walking on glacial debris along ancient animal tracks. I suspect the original path is now the road over the Pass and we have been relocated into the hills. The little alpine flowers are in bloom all along the way and the cow bells ring out as they do in An Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss.
I could feel the temperature falling as we approached the top and hurried on to the hospice for shelter. I glanced over at the morgue behind the hospice, happy not to be directed there.
This place is so much more than just a hostel. The religious order who run the hospice are dedicated to the welfare of travellers and they have kept the hospice open for over 1000 years. The community gave us a very warm welcome including a pot of tea. We recognised several other pilgrims including D, the priest from America and M, the French lady whom I finally managed to meet and a German couple, M & H whom we met yesterday.
In addition to the hospice the community runs an expensive hotel for tourists or anyone who wants to stay more than one night.
After tea and a shower, Paul and I watched a short film about the community followed by another one made in 1936. This second film was rather interesting because it included a scene of an avalanche. The alarm was sounded and the canons rushed out with their famous St Bernard dogs to attempt a rescue. Despite frantic efforts with poles and spades (while the dogs stood around unconvinced by the unfolding drama) they were too late and the corpse was taken to the morgue. In true Edgar Allan Poe style, the bricked up entrance was broken and in we went to see dozens of corpses placed around the building in ghoulish poses waiting for the bitterly cold winds to air dry their remains. Afterwards the morgue was bricked up again.
The film did not diminish our appetites and we ate a delicious ham sandwich and apricot tart with a large beer in the hotel. I have now returned to my bunk bed in the hospice to write this blog. Paul said he was just going to pop over to Italy for awhile. But now I think I will pay a closer visit to the morgue to get a photograph for you all.
Talking of photographs. I was intending to get a selfie with a great big cuddly St Bernard dog. Although these dogs are no longer used for mountain rescues, a few of them spend the summer months up here for the benefit of tourists. But there is a charge of 10 francs to visit them which I declined. I tried to sneak around the back of their enclosure for a quick photo but was caught and evicted. And my efforts with my 20x optical zoom were unsatisfactory.
Before dinner this evening we attended Mass in the church. We arrived in good time and met Fr D. and unfortunately got him reprimanded for talking in the Church.
I received a lovely email from Margot who runs the international association of pilgrims on the Via Francigena in Luzern, congratulating us on reaching the top of the Pass. Thank you Margot, most touching. I’m happy to be a member. Your association has been very helpful on my pilgrimage and it’s wonderful that you keep a close interest in our progress.