St Bernards, A Whole Lotta Love

I love dogs, but I especially love big dogs.   The St. Bernard (also known as St. Barnhardshund, Alpine Mastiff and Bernhardiner) is one of the world’s largest.    They range from 25.5-27.5 inches ( 61-70 cm) and weigh 110-200 pounds (50-91 kg).   The are most likely a cross between Tibetan Mastiffs with Great DanesGreater Swiss Mountain Dog and Great Pyrenees. Initially, they had short hair; long hair coats collect icicles.

Augustinian Monks living in the treacherous St. Bernard Pass (the western route through the alps between Italy and Switzerland) bread the dogs.  8,000 feet above sea level, the pass is 49-miles long and is notorious for its changeable weather and high winds.

The St. Bernard pass was well travelled before St. Bernard de Menthon founded the famous hospice in the Swiss Alps as a refuge for travelers crossing the treacherous passes between Switzerland and Italy around 1050.  There are even remains of a Roman road there.  If you were a pilgrim headed to Rome, this is a likely route you would have taken.  You wouldn’t have been the only one.  Napoleon famously used the pass to cross the alps to invade Italy in 1800.

Image from Stories About Animals on http://www.zookingdoms.com

In the 17th century, St. Bernards were used to rescue people from avalanches and other dangers in snowy alpine passes.    Saint Bernards have many features that make them well adapted to this task.   They can smell a person under many feet of snow.  They can hear low-frequency sounds humans cannot, possibly alerting people to avalanches.   Their broad chests helped clear paths through the snow.  Their large paws helped spread out the weight and worked like snowshoes to keep them on top of the snow.  Their large paws helped them dig through the snow.  Upon finding someone, they lie on top them to provide warmth.

The most famous rescuer was Barry (1800-1812).  He is credited with saving the lives of more than 40 people.  Today, Foundation Barry (named after the famous pooch) works to educate people about and preserve the breed.  They also do alpine hikes with the pups!  Both Foundation Barry and the St. Bernard Museum are located in in Martingy, a village down the mountain from the pass.  Both have the adorable pups on site.

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Museum Day With Mom

My mom came for a visit.  She is a huge fan of Monet and the Foundation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny has a huge Monet show.   All of the waterlilies posters in college turned me off of Monet, but I wanted to make my mom happy and drove us there.  I was really glad I went.  They had tons of paintings.   A lot of them were on loan from private Swiss collectors and are not usually publicly viewed.   Posters just don’t capture his talent with a brush.   His paintings are at a wholly differently level when you see the brushstrokes on the canvas.  Wow!  I wish I could have taken pictures for you.

The museum also had a small, but nice, permanent collection of artworks.*  I was really surprised and impressed by its car museum.  Being from the Detroit area, I have seen my fair share of car shows, museums and exhibits.  I was impressed because I have never seen so many pre-WWI vehicles all in one place (and all in immaculate condition).   I’m not a car person, but I found myself oohing and aahing over them.

The best part of the museum was its sculpture garden.  I love a sculpture garden so I might be a bit biased.**  For me, it is refreshing to be able to be outside while enjoying and interacting with art.   Plus, their sculpture garden incorporated Roman ruins.

Next, we headed over to the St. Bernard Museum.  Being dog people, we had to.  The real highlight of the museum is the dogs.***  You get to see them do all their adorable doggie things (including “hiking footballs”).  We were able to pet them and it made my day.   

When we finally dragged ourselves away from the furballs to check out the rest of the museum, we were pleasantly surprised.  We learned a lot (as a former professor, my mom loves learning) about the history of the region.  I was slightly more lowbrow, oohing and aahing over pictures of dogs, watching a movie on dog search/rescue in the Alps and checking out the St. Bernard movie posters.  Yes, they had posters from Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd and Beethoven’s 3rd.  They even had Stephen King’s Cujo.

On the way back to the car, we passed a Roman road (The Poenine Way) to that led to Rome.  I’m not sure if all roads really still do lead to Rome, but this one definitely did.  Sorry,  I couldn’t help myself.

*The have an exhibit with Roman artifacts (Martigny was a Roman town) and other temporary exhibits.

**It combines my love of art with my love of gardening.  A perfect combo.

***Wanting to see more dogs, we left the museum and went to Foundation Barry to try to see their dogs.  They didn’t open for the season until the following week.  If you are wanting to see the dogs and want a cheaper option, they are less than half the price.