Saints in Wales

A Brief History of the Saint Bernard

Most people know the Saint as a rescue dog and they were used for this purpose by the monks at the Hospice of the Great St. Bernard from as early as the 1770's, they were also used for protection by the monks and in 1787 there is an account of the dogs warding off a group of robbers and saving the monastery's treasures. The rough-coated variety were usually given away as they were unsuitable for rescues due to snow clinging and clumping in the fur. The helicopter has now taken over the dogs original role in saving snowbound travellers along the Swiss pass.

The most famous Saint Bernard dog was Barry who was born in 1800 and rescued many travellers until 1812 when, after being mistaken for a wolf by a man in the snow, he was stabbed repeatedly when trying to help the man. The monks carried them both back to the hospice and Barry recovered but was not fit enough to work again and he spent the next two years in retirement.

The brandy flask around the Saint Bernard's neck was made famous by  Sir Edwin Landseer's painting entitled 'The Rescue'. After 1883 this was no longer used as the monks themselves would carry the necessary first aid equipment.

Over two thousand people owe their lives to the Saint Bernard , amongst them Napoleon Bonaparte who crossed the Alps with ten of his men in 1800 and fell down a crevasse where no-one could reach them. The dogs and the monks came to the rescue and hauled the travellers up and took them to the Hospice. The Hospice is now a tourist attraction.