Monastery's Famed Rescue Dogs Rescued

Many animals have been associated with theology—the lamb, the lion, the fish, the pelican (believed to feed its young with its own blood)—but one of the most prominent pets with roots in church history is the Saint Bernard. Reportedly bred first around 1660 as guard dogs for the monastery and hospice founded six centuries earlier by Bernard of Menthon (Monthen/ Montjou/ Aotha/ Montjoux), they gained a reputation as rescuers, credited with more than 2,000 saves over the past two centuries. One dog saved more than 40 people between 1800 and 1812.

Recently, however, the dogs (now 18 adults and 16 pups) themselves needed rescue: "We no longer have the money to breed and care for these marvelous dogs," the monastery's Father Ilario told The Times of London last year. The animals eat more than four pounds of meat a day, and helicopters and other technology have put them out of the rescue business since 1975. So in January, Swiss philanthropists announced that they would grant the monks more than $4 million to care for the animals and to build a museum honoring them and the monastery's longtime hospitality.

Such tourism with a spiritual twist is consistent with Bernard's history: after his appointment as Archdeacon of Aosta, Italy, Bernard was largely focused on converting Alpine people. He soon became concerned about reports of French and German pilgrims trapped by avalanches as they traveled to Rome. The four monks who remain at the monastery he founded for their safety say their pleas for help were largely driven by a desire to spend more time ministering to modern-day pilgrims and less to the canines.

Attack on the Missions

A suit from Americans United for Separation of Church and ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.