Litscape Art

In Affiliation With

Saint Bernard Dog Art

The Hospice At The Great St. Bernard Pass

The Great St. Bernard Pass is a mountain pass in the Valais Alps (formerly the Pennine Alps) between Switzerland and Italy. It has a maximum elevation of 2,469 m (8,100 ft), well above the tree line. In the winter, there can be 10 meters of snow and temperatures as low as -30 degrees celcius. There is evidence that this pass was used as far back as the bronze age (about 3000 BC).

In 1049 AD, Saint Bernard of Menthon founded a hospice for travellers at the highest point. His goal was to keep the pass safe for travellers (from the elements and from bandits). The hospice and the pass were named after him in the 1600s. The hospice used St. Bernard dogs in rescue operations after about 1660, because the breed was big enough to move through deep snow and they were able to sniff out lost persons. These dogs have an uncanny sense of direction and resistance to cold.

St Bernards as Rescue Dogs

In the early 1700's, people travelling between the hospice and Bourg-Saint-Pierre (a municipality on the Swiss side) were accompanied by servants (known as "marroniers") and St. Bernard Dogs. Travel paths were cleared by the broad chests of the dog. The marroniers noted the dogs ability to find people buried deep in the snow. The dog would dig through the snow and lie on the buried person, providing warmth.

Shortly thereafter, the dogs were sent out in groups of two or three (without being accompanied by a person), with a mission to seek lost or injured travelers. When they found a buried traveler, one dog would stay behind and warm the person. The other would return to the hospice to alert the monks of the situation. When Napoleon and his 250,000 soldiers crossed the pass between 1790 and 1810, not a single soldier died, because of the St. Bernard. St. Bernard dogs have saved thousands of people from "the white death". They truly deserve a medal of honor. Bernard was confirmed as the patron saint of the Alps in 1923 by Pope Pius XI.

The St. Bernard dog came close to extinction between 1816 and 1818. The winter was severe and many dogs died in avalanches while doing rescue work. They were replenished with similar dogs from neighboring valleys.

St. Bernards, Brandy Kegs and Art

The image of St. Bernard dogs, with brandy kegs around their necks (for "medicinal purposes", of course), does not reflect reality. The St. Bernard Hospice monks deny that casks or kegs were ever carried around the neck of any St. Bernard dog. Alcohol is a vaso-dilator and would not be a good thing to administer to a person with hypothermia.The monks believe that the origin of this image is an early painting. St. Bernard dogs first showed up in art in 1695, in two pieces by famous Italian artist Salvatore Rosa. Unfortunately, Litscape Art does not have these pieces to show you. The monks of the hospice at Great St. Bernard Pass keep casks around for tourists to photograph. The dog was bred for its' strength and rescue ability, and not brandy-lugging skills.

St. Bernard Descendency

Like the Sennenhunds, St. Bernards descend from molosser type dogs, which were brought into the region by the ancient Romans. The Molossus dog was a large shepherd dog from Molossia (a subregion of ancient Epirus, in north-western Greece).


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