Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Swiss Side: Gran San Bernardo Pass, Great Saint Bernard Pass, Alps

The Gran San Bernardo Pass
Great Saint Bernard Pass
Swiss Side

See Part I, from Italian Side, at Italy Road Ways, Italian Side, Alps, Gran San Bernardo Pass. FN 1

The San Bernardo Pass crosses the Alps from Italy to Switzerlandl and we took that south to north route.  We started at Aosta, in Italy, and then went to Montigny, in Switzerland. The Romans called the primary mountain here Mons Jovis; in the Middle Ages, the Pass was Mont-Joux. Use those names to research very early material.

1. The Pass on the Swiss side; the Monastery at the Summit
2. An accident there - no injuries, and not ours. But no tow truck available, either.
3. The Saint Bernard dogs;
4.  Napoleon
5.  The Black Madonna image in the monastery; and excerpts from Legends of the Madonna

1.  The Pass

Don't take the tunnel.  Cross  the big one, the Gran San Bernardo, the Great Saint Bernard Pass.
Our route:  South to north.  We went from Italy, at Aosta, in Italy; to Switzerland, at Martigny.  Napoleon crossed in the opposite direction -  from Martigny, in Switzerland;  to Aosta, in Italy. Same road.

You need to be prepared show your passport at the summit, because Switzerland is not part of the border-checkpoint-free European Union. The EU. 

Probably the monastery here was not founded by St. Bernard, because of conflicting date records (the founding if at 950 was 130 years before his death in 1081, or some such), see ://;  but no mind. The Pass was named in the 16th Century. 

 2.  The small accident.

Car and motorcycle.  Somehow, though, the rear end of the car went over the edge. No injuries. But the passage remaining was so narrow, and there are no tow trucks up there, so in the bustle nobody checked passports or vehicles for a long time. Surrounded by EU countries, why doesn't Switzerland just join up and let us through all the time. Why? Because they make money making us change our money from Euros or Dollars into Swiss Francs.  Give a Euro, and they may take it, but they will give change in Swiss Francs and charge the conversion fee.


3.  The Saint Bernard dogs. 

Rescue dog needed. Rescue dog needed.  Here is one:  a Saint Bernard, right there. They were bred by monks at the summit, see a history of them at :// The monastery could not afford to maintain them on their own any longer, and we understand that a benevolent fine lady bought them all and supports them, including handlers, bringing them to the mountain for all of us to enjoy. Other groups have also stepped up to save the Saint Bernards from breed dissipation, example ://

  Saint Bernard rescue dog, Great Saint Bernard Pass, Italy

That is not the offending motorcycle of accident fame.  Now - Look closely, there on the mountainside. There are more of the old breed, the Saint Bernard dogs, out for exercise. Listen. They are being very loud about it.

Saint Bernard rescue dogs, Gran San Bernardo Pass, Italy. Exercising, with handlers.

The Saint Bernard dog.  Where is the little keg flask?

 4.  Who else passed this way?  Napoleon and 30,000 of his closest friends.

History: who succeeds, who finds the route, who learns the secrets of survival in nearly impossible conditions, and manages to pass them on.This pass has served for millennia.

There is no note of Napoleon on the Italian side.  Only the Swiss, because he prevailed in battles against the Italians, probably.  Is that so? The Swiss love Napoleon; and feature his army crossing in illustrations and hats by the side of the road.  Italy? You would never know that the hatted, hand-inside-vest one, ever passed this way.  The Swiss side so happily exploits Napoleon, we expected to see a halo over the hat.

On the Italian side, find no reference to Napoleon. To victors, the spin.

5.  The  Black Madonna, a copy of an original now at Czestochowa, Poland

The most famous Black Madonna is at the Jasna Gora Monastery, here at the summit of the Gran San Bernardo.  Did the original pass this way on its way up to Poland? There are several Black Madonna representations and original at Jasna Gora Monastery at Czestochowa, Poland, and this is one that is seen there.  See Poland Road Ways, Czestochowa Black Madonna.  Scroll down to the second image.

What is the history of the Black Madonnas.  They appear in many places in Europe and Central and South America. Here is some information, an author's views from the 19th Century, in this free e-book, Legends of the Madonna, 1860 and 1881, at ://  The author is a Mrs. Jameson, 1794-1860. We know no more about her, yet.

Here are passages attempting to explain the theme in that 19th Century book:

It is curious that, hand in hand with this development of taste and
feeling in the appreciation of natural sentiment and beauty, and
this tendency to realism, we find the associations of a peculiar and
specific sanctity remaining with the old Byzantine type. This arose
from the fact, always to be borne in mind, that the most ancient
artistic figure of the Madonna was a purely theological symbol;
apparently the moral type was too nearly allied to the human and
the real to satisfy faith. It is the ugly, dark-coloured, ancient
Greek Madonnas, such as this, which had all along the credit of
being miraculous; and "to this day," says Kugler, "the Neapolitan
lemonade-seller will allow no other than a formal Greek Madonna, with
olive-green complexion and veiled head, to be set up in his booth." It
is the same in Russia. Such pictures, in which there is no attempt
at representation, real or ideal, and which merely have a sort of
imaginary sanctity and power, are not so much idols as they are mere
_Fetishes_. The most lovely Madonna by Raphael or Titian would not
have the same effect. Guido, who himself painted lovely Virgins,
went every Saturday to pray before the little black _Madonna della
Guardia_, and, as we are assured, held this old Eastern relic in
devout veneration.
We have not yet found that particular black Madonna della Guardia. Do a find for "black" and this passage appears about 3/4 inch down the scroll bar. 
Continue to the next occurrence of "black" and find the author's view further:
Because some of the Greek pictures and carved images had become black
through extreme age, it was argued by certain devout writers, that the
Virgin herself must have been of a very dark complexion; and in favour
of this idea they quoted this text from the Canticles, "I am black,
but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem." But others say that her
complexion had become black only during her sojourn in Egypt. At all
events, though the blackness of these antique images was supposed to
enhance their sanctity, it has never been imitated in the fine arts,
and it is quite contrary to the description of Nicephorus, which is
the most ancient authority, and that which is followed in the Greek
So, this work has its own explanation, and rejection.

The next reference is to an artwork with a black servingwoman behind Mary. Would that be Sara la Kali?

10. We will now turn to a conception altogether different, and equally
a masterpiece; it is the small but exquisitely finished composition
by Rembrandt. (Grosvenor Gal.) The scene is the garden in front of
the house of Zacharias; Elizabeth is descending the steps in haste
to receive and embrace with outstretched arms the Virgin Mary, who
appears to have just alighted from her journey. The aged Zacharias,
supported by a youth, is seen following Elizabeth to welcome their
guest. Behind Mary stands a black female attendant, in the act of
removing a mantle from her shoulders; in the background a servant,
or (as I think) Joseph, holds the ass on which Mary has journeyed; a
peacock with a gem-like train, and a hen with a brood of chickens (the
latter the emblem of maternity), are in the foreground. Though the
representation thus conceived appears like a scene of every-day life,
nothing can be more poetical than the treatment, more intensely true
and noble than the expression of the diminutive figures, more masterly
and finished than the execution, more magical and lustrous than the
effect of the whole. The work of Albertinelli, in its large and solemn
beauty and religious significance, is worthy of being placed over an
altar, on which we might offer up the work of Rembrandt as men offer
incense, gems, and gold.
Continue the "find" and there is Black Balthazar, the Ethopian King as the author identifies him, with his train borne by a white page, to signify equality of the races, she says.  So, vet your sources, see if you agree, see what is objective fact, if anything, and what is authorly surmise and wishful thinking. Always interesting, not always reliable, is that so? Couldn't Balthazar, even if black (is that Biblical, be from elsewhere?)

Find a website on Black Madonnas from the University of Dayton at ://

Now:  go to the first half of the way over, from Italy, at Italy Road Ways, Italian Side, Alps, Gran San Bernardino.

FN 1
We came from the south, Aosta on the Italian side, toward Martigny on the Swiss side, through the Gran San Bernardo Pass - abbreviated as GSB on the green road signs, on the highways. Note that the Gran San Bernardo  is different from the less taxing Bernardino Pass.

For the lesser San Bernardino, see ://  That lower, and easier, San Bernardino Pass, has had its place in enabling ordinary people to cross over, but has not been pivotal in history, as has the Great Saint Bernard.

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