• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 04
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Father Bernard

I roam these paths summer and winter in search of travellers in difficulty. This area of the Alps is never free from snow, and drifts of eight feet are common even in summer. Many of the travellers are pilgrims, mostly from France and Germany, on their way to Rome to pray at the tomb of Saint Peter. They seldom anticipate the severity of the weather in the Alps and often land in trouble. That’s why, twenty years ago in 1050, I founded a hostel near this pass to serve pilgrims and other travellers. Before I became a priest I was known as Bernard of Menthon. Now it’s simply Father Bernard.

When I first came here I found the local peasants to be simple, credulous folk. To my shock I discovered that they still followed some of the old pagan ways despite being nominally Christian. I’ve tried to change that but it’s not been easy. I introduced them to some herbal remedies for common ailments and when they were effective they thought I was a miracle worker and started calling me Saint Bernard. I’ve put a stop to that though.

One of the innovations I’ve introduced has been to use dogs to help find travellers in distress, bring them nourishment and guide them to the hostel. I started by training the common herding dogs of the area for this work and over the years, by selective breeding, I’ve developed a type of dog robust enough to cope with the weather but gentle and intelligent enough to win the confidence of those they rescue. I’ve even put a small cask of brandy around their necks so that stranded travellers can be revived and refreshed. I believe it’s greatly appreciated. I really must think of a name for this breed of dog.