Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

The Dogs of St. Bernard of Menthon

Deep in the Alps, and from very ancient times, is a path that leads from Turin, Italy to Valais, Switzerland. Perpetually blanketed in snow seven to eight feet deep, with drifts up to forty feet deep, this pass is exceedingly dangerous and blighted with avalanches, but still, it was well used by pilgrims, especially French and German ones on their way to Rome.

Around A.D. 1050, an Italian priest named Bernard -- a man who'd spent four decades spreading the Gospel -- built a monastery there, with two hospices to aid these poor, disressed travelers. Relying on donations for sustenance, the Augustinan monks who run the hospices offer food, clothing, and shelter to travelers and take care of the dead.

The monks also began breeding dogs who'd be perfect for the sorts of mountain rescues needed in the area. The breed that resulted -- now known as the St. Bernard -- is an enormous dog with a low-hanging, heavy tail and a white coat with red or brown brindle, and black around the face. Their temperament is that of a "gentle giant" -- calm, sweet, and wonderful with children. These beautiful animals are often shown in pictures sporting little wooden kegs around their necks with which to bring brandy to the stranded in order to revive them.

In 1823, Thomas Byerley wrote in "The Percy Anecdotes," of one particularly heroic St. Bernard named Barry, a dog who's become known to us in German as "Menschenretter" (People-Rescuer), and who was born in 1800 and died in 1814:

The breed of dogs kept by the monks to assist them ... has been long celebrated for its sagacity and fidelity. All the oldest and most tried of them were lately buried, along with some unfortunate travellers, under avalanche; but three or four hopeful puppies were left at home in the convent, and still survive. The most celebrated of those who are no more, was a dog called Barry. This animal served the hospital for the space of twelve years, during which time he saved the lives of forty individuals. His zeal was indefatigable. Whenever the mountain was enveloped in fogs and snow, he set out in search of lost travellers. He was accustomed to run barking until he lost breath, and would frequently venture on the most perilous places. When he found his strength was insufficient to draw from the snow a traveller benumbed with cold, he would run back to the hospital in search of the monks….

When old age deprived him of strength, the Prior of the Convent pensioned him at Berney, by way of reward. After his death, his hide was stuffed and deposited in the museum of that town. The little phial, in which he carried a reviving liquor for the distressed travellers whom he found among the mountains, is still suspended from his neck.

A monument to Barry stands in the Cimetière des Chiens near Paris, and his body, preserved by taxidermy, can be seen at the Natural History Museum of Bern.

So the next time you see a St. Bernard, think of Barry. Better yet, think of St. Bernard, for whom his kind is named. Even better yet, think of the great God Who created dogs in the first place and gave them to us as friends.

St. Bernard of Menthon is also known as St. Bernard of Montjoux.

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