1049. Anyone remember what you were doing? The Hospice du Grand St. Bernard was born in 1049.
The printing press was invented ca. 1440. The telephone in 1876 and the light bulb shortly after that. Penicillin in 1944. Apple Macintosh was invented in 1984. Charlie Loh was born in 2002. I mention these things to point out just how many years the Hospice has on most of us.
The Hospice du Grand St. Bernard is a pilgrimage site. It is the meeting place for pilgrims on a physically-exhausting journey (the Via Francigena “Canterbury to Rome”). They have found evidence linking Grand St. Bernard to the Bronze age and the road truly dates back to the Roman Empire. The modern day Hospice du St. Bernard was named for Saint Bernard of Menthon. The original intent, as I understand it, was to protect the treacherous pass from bandits and to provide shelter to those passing through Switzerland into Italy via the Alps (or vice versa).
Why is she writing about this?
Because. In “Before You,” Emily and Daniel don’t go to Simplon. They go to the Hospice du Grand St. Bernard. I was encouraged to change the name and I’m correcting that mistake. There is no reason to hide the name of this amazing, spiritual place. I am proud to say that GSB is one of the many spots in Switzerland I have found where people are accepted as they are to find shelter, warmth, and peace. God bless GSB.
The St. Bernard dogs? They saved countless lives. The canons living at the Hospice would brave horrible conditions with the dogs to save those caught in the snowstorms. These calm, docile creatures have chests bigger than most people I know. I was amazed to see footage of them in snow. They, quite literally, swim through the snow. Saving lives. The Canons serving the congregation and pilgrims at GSB? They save lives, too. They saved mine.
The Canons, the pilgrims, and the volunteers all work together to create a place where God is center stage. Yes, we keep Canonic order at GSB, but the God we pray to is a universal God. A loving God. We sing Taize, we eat together at a communal table. Much to my shock (I literally had to leave), most people eat, sleep, and yes undress in communal rooms. GSB is a place of peace, of reflection, of rest, of humility.
On March 2nd in Zürich, I will sing a benefit recital (my collaborative pianist is Dorothy Yeung) to help raise funds for the campaign to keep GSB “serving” for centuries to come. If you feel so inclined, donate to the account below. Donate generously. We are all pilgrims.