By Otto Herschan
THE Calvinistic tag has stuck pretty firmly to 'Switzerland, and we arc apt to think of the Christian heritage of 'this small country in terms of Protestant traditions. It is wrong, though understandable, to think in such narrow terms.
The Charter of the Swiss Federal Constitution opens with the words: "In the name of God Almighty. Amen." As though to confirm the Christian steadfastness of the Swiss, even geography has taken a hand.
Its four great rivers. the Ticino. the Rhine, the Reuss, and the Rhone, flow symbolically in the form of a cross from the great central watershed of the St. Gotthard. The C'ross also is incorporated in the emblem of Switzerland.
Undoubtedly the most famous monastery in the country is Einsiedeln. The town is situated in a wide basin between the lakes of Zurich and Lucerne, roughly 25 kilometres north of Schwyz.
The name Linsiedeln (Hermitage) goes back to St. Meinrad. who was born in Southern Swabia during the later years of Charlemagne's reign. St. Meinrad was clubbed to death by two ruffians in the year 861.
For a time the saint's mortal remains rested at Reichenau. but in 1039 the greatly venerated relics returned to the site of his hermitage, where now stood a monastery. His head has been preserved to this day and reposes in the marble tabernacle of Our Lady's Shrine.
The building is without question the finest in Switzerland-matched. in the impression of being planned as a whole, only by the Spanish Escorial. The facade with its twin towers and the sweep of its arcades rise like a great castle. The present Abbot of the monastery is the AbbotPresident of the Benedictines.
Another celebrated church is that of St. Gallen. which has, in common with Einsiedeln, a Benedictine heritage-but which, alas, has not continued to this day. The city is the capital of the Canton of St. Gallen, the seat of a bishop since 1846, It is south of Lake Constance and not very far from the Austrian border.
St. Gallen is of special interest to us in these islands because it was founded in 612 by an Irish monk. St. Gall, when he accompanied St. Columban to the shores of Lake Constance. Where the great baroque monastery stands today he built himself a hermit's cell with an oratory.
The first church of stone was built by St. Otmar, some time after 720, when the Benedictine order was established there. The present structure dates from the 17th century.
Luckily not only elle cathedral but also the beautiful library survived the secularisation of the Abbey in 1805. The library contains some 100.000 volumes, its most precious possessions being the 2,000 St. Gall manuscripts, the greater part of them written in the 8th to I I th eenturies.
St. Gall and his brethren brought books with them from Ireland. when they came to preach Christianity. These Irish manuscripts are regarded as very rare treasures on the Continent. Another gem is the 13th century manuscript of the Nibelungen legend.
Because the floor of the library is magnificently inlaid in wood, visitors are required to put on large felt galoshes--ostensibly to protect the floor, but probably to polish it as well!
St. Catherine's church at St. Gallen. which belonged to a Dominican convent. has a cloister dating to 1507. If your interest is modern rather than ancient architecture. have a look at the Church of the Trinity designed by Scherer.
Leaving Lake Constance for the shores of Lake Geneva, in the south-west of the country we find. near fashionable Montreux. one of Switzerland's most picturesque monuments, the Chateau de Chilton. the scene of Byron's poem "The Prisoner of Chilton".
The fortress of Chillon stands on a steep rock separated from the shore by only a few feet of water.
From a document dated 1005 it is known that the castle at that time belonged to the bishops of Sion,Later it became associated with the House of Savoy. In 1439 a Duke of Savoy became Pope Felix V. Later he became anti-Pope and went to reside in great splendour at Chilton.
An interesting day excursion due south from Montreux takes one to the hospice on the Great St. Bernard Pass (8.114 ft.). Now that a tunnel has been opened to link Switzerland and ltaly there is less traffic on the Pass road.
In 1963 the CNIDOLIC HERALD published a report that the last St. Bernard dog had been sold. :However. the Prior of the Augustinians. who now occupy the hospice. denied this and invited any readers to come and see for themselves.
'Hie hospice was founded about 1050 by St. Bernard of Menthon to assist travellers in distress. It was for this purpose that the stout dogs which bear his name were kept. The church itself was built in 1676.
It is well to know that at the end of your journey lunch can be had at the hospice at a very reasonable price and of a very good quality. The souvenir shop has, as might , he expected, wooden replicas of the St. Bernard dogs for sale and a pleasant liqueur named after the place. Should you arrive at Montreux on a Sunday afternoon. you will he glad to know that there is a Mass at the church at 8.15 p.m.
On the road to the Great St. Bernard Pass, at the entrance to St. Maurice, stands the oldest monastery in Switzerland—the "Royal Abbey of St. Maurice of Agaune", founded about 515 by St. Theodule, Bishop of Octodurum.
' In Roman times the place was known as Aguanum, and served as an imperial outpost. History has it that about 300 A.D. St. Maurice, with his Theban legion, was slaughtered by the Romans because he is said to have told the Emperor Maximilian: "We are your soldiers, 0 Emperor. but we freely acknowledge that we are also the servants of God ... To you is due military obedience, but to God, justice . .
"We believe in God the Father of all and His Son Jesus Christ . . We cannot take arms to strike pious men. civilians . . . We are ready to submit to torture . . . Christians we declare ourselves to be, we cannot persecute Christians."
As a result. by order of Maximilian. the whole legion was beheaded.
• jhe relics of SE Maurice and the soldiers of the Theban legion are still venerated at the monastery. Since 1840 the Canonical Prior has always been consecrated a Bishop of Bethlehem.
Yesterday and today blend harmoniously at Fribourg. To some the city is familiar as an International Catholic University. to others for its institutions such as "Pax Romano.", "Unda" or "The Catholica Unio".
Others still may know of it because of the Shrine of NotreDame de Bourguillon which lies a few steps outside the town. Whatever the reason. there will be few readers who are not aware of its existence, some 30 kilometres south-east of Berne. on the borders of the French and German language cantons.
This picturesque city of bridges has been called the "Rome of Switzerland" because of its many churches, monasteries and convents, foremost among them the fine 13th century Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Other churches worth inspection are Our Lady's Church, parts of which date back to the 12th century. as does the Augustinian Church.
Of more recent vintage is the Church of St. Michael (17th century). The beautiful stained glass windows in the 16th century chapel of St. Bartholomew in the Perolles quarter should also he seen.
If you can plan your visit to coincide with the feast of Corpus Christi. so much the better. Here, as in many other places in this alpine land. there is a colourful procession on this great day.
The new Chapelle Universitaire, designed by Dumas and Honeggar. blends remarkably well with the university buildings. It is unusual in combining, in its outward appearance, sacred and profane art.
It would be remiss to leave until the end St. Nicholas von Flue, the Patron Saint of Switzerland. St. Nicholas was born Unterwalden in 1417, the son of a farmer. He fought in the military forces in his Canton, and was appointed magistrate and deputy tor Oberwalden.
He married and had ten children. When he was 50, with the consent of his family, he went to live at Ranft as a hermit for 19 years. In 1481, when there were great dissensions in the Swiss Confederation, they turned to Nicholas who is said to have helped to draw up the Edict of Stans.
Known as "Brother Klaus" he was canonised in 1947. His tomb is at Sachseln, just a few miles south of Lucerne. in a church rebuilt during 1672-84. A narrow mountain road to the east of the town leads to the hamlet of Fiieli two miles away, where stands a pilgrimage chapel and the house reputed to be that of St. Nicholas. His hermitage was ten miles lower down, on the slopes of the Ranft.
In passing, mention has been made of Lucerne: but this cannot suffice for this ever popular summer and winter resort. on the Vierwaldstatter See, south of Zurich. Lucerne provides all the amenities of an ideal resort on a lake and near the mountains. It also makes provision for plenty of amusements for children.
There is an excellent annual Music Festival, which attracts the best artists from all parts of the world.
The official tourist office at 4 Schweizerhofquai is well equipped to advise anyone on aything. it has available for Catholic visitors not only a list of its many churches with times of Masses. but also indicated on these cards are the languages in which confessions are heard at every church, where there are sernions and the language in witich they are to he preached.
One of the first things you will notice in the centre of the town, apart from the Cathedral, will be the Chapel Bridge. Allow yourself plenty of time to walk across this footbridge.
Except for the two end sections, it dates back to the 14th century. The decorated panels on each arch of this covered bridge, painted by Heinrich Wagmann at the beginning of the 17th century, depict historical events pertaining to Lucerne and Switzerland.
They include the foundation of the Cathedral and the lives of the city's patron saints, Leodegar and Maurice.
Space precludes mention ot more than two or three other places.
Among them is Locarno, situated at the northern end of Lake Maggiore, near the Italian border. Proud and beautiful, the pilgrimage church of Madonna del Sasso stands high on a rocky mountain overlooking I ,ocarno.
Masses at the church are at 6, 7, 8, and 9 on weekdays, and 11 o'clock on Sundays and Holy Days. There are also evening Masses. Confessions can be heard in English.
Engelberg Angel Mountain —approximately 20 kilometres south of the Lake of Lucerne, is the seat of a Benedictine monastery consecrated on April I. 1120. the first Abbot was Blessed Melte:int. Today there are about 120 monks who conduct a flourishing school.
Not far from Basle, in the Canton of Solothurn, Western Switzerland possesses another revered Basilica, that of Mariastein, the foundation of which goes back to the 14th century.
Mention must he made of the Convent of Maria Rickenbach, of the Beromiinster Ascension Day boundary-heating procession. of the Cathedral of Chur, of the many colourful Corpus Christi processions, especially that at Appenzell of the feast of St. Placidus at Disentis on July 11, of Notre-Dame at Lausanne. of Notre-Dame de Vorbourg and of the monks of Chartreuse at La Valsainte.
However, enough has probably been written to .show readers that it would not be out of place to look on Switzerland as a Catholic country, and to provide at least a starting point for exploring its Christian heritage.