Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bernard of Menthon

When you think "Saint Bernard" it probably is not an actual saint that pops in to your mind but an actual dog. For me, it is Nana from Peter Pan.  It seems, the dogs were named for the famously impassable Great Saint Bernard Pass & the pass is named for the man himself.

For perhaps the first time ever in my looking into the saints & what they do for us, Bernard is invoked by Alpinists specifically, mountain climbers & skiers more generally & ultimately all travelers in the mountains. No skin ailments, no lost children/innocents or innocence, no diseases, no random occupation associated with the gruesome way he died, nothing. Sweet blessed relief.

The man seems almost normal, as well. During his mortality, he held a clerical/local magistrate-type office near the 10-months-of-winter pass that bears his name. While there he established the patrols & shelters for travelers in this plagued (by weather & thieves) region. I can find no grand show stopping number in his repertoire, just 40+ years of hard work, patrolling, administering & preaching against idolatry, pretty much in that order. His miracles have been described as "numerous" & that is all; the entry has a kind of after thought quality. I marvel that the church made him a saint. It seems to me the man himself might have been more pleased about the naming of the dog breed, but maybe I am projecting.

The final thing that struck me about Bernard of Menthon was not so much that lack of information about him as the extra information about him. I found TWO definitive years of birth (923 & 996), THREE definitive nationalities (Italian & French & Swiss), as well as a number of offices for which he was 'most well known'. I cannot help it, I feel if anyone is 'most well known' for something it ought to be just the one something. There are also legions of other Saint Bernards (not to be confused with other saint bernards) & so I cannot help but think they might be raining on this everyday clergyman's day. Which is a damn shame, because I think I like him best.

//in the course of writing this I double checked to see if Nana was indeed a Saint Bernard, she certainly looked like one. She was, according to stage directions, a Newfoundland. Interestingly enough, many Saint Bernards are also almost Newfies; the avalanches of the 18-teens were particularly hard &, because of the dog-death-toll, the Newfie line was introduced into Saint Bernard breeding stock.

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