From the Sublime to the Ridiculous: Monasteries and Mardi Gras, 1

This recent visit to Switzerland came about following an invitation in January to join my friend Susanne for her birthday celebration to be held at the Engelberg Monastery a few miles from her home. Sadly, a close family bereavement meant that the party was cancelled and there was to be a family memorial service followed by lunch on the Sunday. This being the case, I stayed for a few days in Bern; only joining S and family later on the Sunday.

Susanne is a teacher at the school attached to the Engelberg Kloster [monastery] and as it was ‘Fasnacht‘ like most schools in the Catholic Cantons of Switzerland school was on half-term holiday. This gave us a few days to spend together and on the first one we travelled to Einsiedeln the home of another impressive monastery and church not too far from Lake Zürich.

Einsiedeln Church

The drive, which was to be long enough anyway, was extended quite considerably due to road closures and diversions. ‘Fasnacht’ parades were taking place in every town, village and hamlet – including, when we arrived there, Einsiedeln.


The town of Einsiedeln from the abbey

The vast Monastery and abbey church dominate the small town of Einsiedeln. They serve as a place of pilgrimage – for here is the Chapel of Our Lady, The Black Madonna – and are situated on one of the Swiss paths that lead to the Way of St James de Compostella [Jakobsweg]. I’ve written before about the St James Way here and here.

St James Way 'plasters

Special “St James Way” ‘plasters on sale in the shop. Burberry design??

Let me quote from the 1928 edition of Baedeker’s Switzerland. I’ve enjoyed reading the entries in old Baedeker and Muirhead Guides and comparing with my own experiences.

Einsiedeln, or Notre-Dame-des-Ermites, … the most famous pilgrim-resort in Switzerland, has a Benedictine Abbey, founded in c.948, on the site of the well of St Meinrad, who was murdered in 861. This abbey was richly dowered with lands by the Emperors Otho II (972) and Henry II (1018) and became an independent principality of the Holy Roman Empire. The abbey was once ruled y an Anglo-Saxon abbot, St Gregory (d.996). The chief festival (“Engelweihe”) is on Sept. 14th.

 The abbey, occupying an area of 16 acres, was rebuilt in sandstone in 1704-18, by Kaspar Mosbrugger. … The CHURCH, in the centre of the slightly curved W. front, which 446′ long, with its two towers, was erected in 1719-35, also from the plans of Mosbrugger, and is the best example of the ‘Vorarlberg School’ in Switzerland.”

No photography is allowed inside this over-the-top Baroque church. But the public are allowed to enter the precincts and inspect the horses of the oldest stud farm in Europe that is still working. The stables were built in the 1760s. The horses (the Einsiedeln breed) – apparently famed throughout Europe – are known as “Cavalli della Madonna”, or The Madonna’s horses.

Entering the precincts




The Einsiedeln Horses in the Snow

From the Abbey it’s just a few paces down into the town where we had an apple tart ‘lunch’ and then watched part of the amazing Fasnacht parade. As you might guess, the cold soon got to us and before long we made our way back to the car and home. Not being as tough (or filled with Glühwein??) as the participants.

Moving chalet??

Moving Chalet?


The outfits of the musicians brighten up the day


I just had to  come across cow bells at one point during my visit – and this was it!

Einsiedeln Town Hall

The decorated Town Hall before Nessy!

Town Hall and Nessy

And as The Loch Ness Monster passed by!


8 comments on “From the Sublime to the Ridiculous: Monasteries and Mardi Gras, 1

  1. Fran says:

    What a great time to visit. any idea why Nessy put in an appearance?

  2. dovegreyreader says:

    How sad that the day couldn’t happen as planned, but what a magnificent place to work and live! I often wonder if people who have that much snow love it or loath it??

    • Magnificent, indeed, and much appreciated by S herself. My friends are not keen on it and long for the summer but agree that it does look very attractive. They are also not keen skiers so perhaps not typically Swiss.

  3. blosslyn says:

    How amazing, I went with my school many years ago to ski there. We went in the Monastery which is huge, it seemed so at the time. We stayed in a wonderful old wooden hotel over looking it, but going back a few later it had burnt down and a new one built in is place. So thank you so much for trip back to the past.

    • Hello blosslyn, I see you have been enjoying some of my posts. Thank you. How lovely to have memories of schooldays skiing at Engelberg and staying in an old wooden hotel. At least I assume you mean Engelberg and not Einsiedeln. You won’t catch me skiing at any price!!

      • blosslyn says:

        Hello, it was Einsiedeln and I now remember the hotel was called the Three Kings and it was green and white, very old…thanks again

  4. Well, I hadn’t realised that Einsiedeln was a ski resort at any time, so thank you for enlightening me. There are some lovely old painted buildings but it was extremely cold and there was so much ‘mardi-gras’-ing going on with roads closed etc we didn’t have a look round the town itself.

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