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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The decorated Town Hall before Nessy!
And as The Loch Ness Monster passed by!