Saturday, August 7, 2010

High point

Today Fr. Basil and I went to southern Switzerland (about four hours by car) high into the Alps to see the Matterhorn (4,478 meters or 14,692 feet). We traveled to the town of Tasch, then by train to Zermatt (which is car-free). Then we rode what is billed as the highest cable-car system in Europe up, up, up, and up some more. Our point of view was the summit of the Little Matterhorn (3,833 meters or 12,736 feet), which is just to the east of the Matterhorn.

How high were we? We were so high that it was below freezing. Coats were necessary. Noses grew rosy. I made a snowball. In August. We were so high that there were glaciers below us. We were so high that from our vantage point we could see three countries—Switzerland, Italy, and France.

As much as I have been impressed with the mountain views in Switzerland up to this point, nothing in my lifetime compares with what I saw today. The pictures I have posted only capture a sliver of how absolutely stunning it was. It was beautiful in a way that only the truth of creation and redemption can be—awesome, powerful, and even harsh. From that height, one can look down and see centuries-old glaciers still slowly grinding, scraping, and carving the solid rock. And as they have gradually receded, green growth has eventually found crevices to poke through. I was on top of the world, and yet I felt incredibly small.

The first photo above expresses it best. The crucifix is planted on the summit of the Little Matterhorn. In the near distance just below and to the right is the eastern face of the Matterhorn. On a plaque below the corpus is a short message in several different languages: Be more human. Amen.

The second photo is shot from the same vantage point, this time to the east toward Breithorn (4,164 meters), at the far right. Below the peak and to the left are several glaciers. If you zoom in on the peak’s snow cap, you will see tiny black dots resembling a line of ants. Those are either very brave or very crazy people.

The third photo is a good shot of a receding glacier and the work it has helped to do in carving out the valley. Unseen from this high up, but deep within the crevice in the middle of the picture is the town of Zermatt from which we ascended. Incidentally, on the way to Tasch, we passed through a number of idyllic old villages with simple but solid pine-timber buildings, most of which are still in use after being built 300 or 400 years ago. And they rest on round pieces of rock atop short stilts to keep the mice away. That is stability! As we passed through these villages, Fr. Basil explained how difficult the life can be for the people in the region. (Both Abbot Martin and Fr. Aaron of Einsideln are from towns just to the north in the canton of Wallis). The surrounding mountains are beautiful, but also very dangerous. Occasionally, part of a mountain may come crashing down, crushing anything in its path and reforming the valley below. And in the winter, there are avalanches to contend with. Again, harsh beauty.

Anyway, when we were finished looking down at the glaciers, Fr. Basil and I descended deep into one. I had not known such a thing was possible. An elevator from the Little Matterhorn injects you deep inside the glacier below, where there are tunnels and rooms of ice to walk through. We are pictured in front of a natural underground crevice in the glacier. I think I am probably the only monk of Saint Meinrad ever to be inside a glacier wearing sunglasses!

The last photo is from the opposite vantage point—from the town of Zermatt looking up at the Matterhorn.

On the way down, Fr. Basil asked me (pun intended), “Was this the high point of your life?”

Pretty darn close. It was certainly a perfect day, and a perfect way to wrap up this summer. Tomorrow (Sunday) I pack and say goodbye to Einsiedeln, and early Monday morning Br. Mauritius and I will be on a plane back to Saint Meinrad.
UPDATE: Sunday, Aug. 8 --I learned today that while Fr. Basil and I were on the moutain opposite the Matterhorn on Saturday afternoon, a climber fell 700 meters to his death on the east face of the Matterhorn (which we were viewing). Again, harsh beauty. May he rest in peace, and may Our Lady of Einsiedeln comfort his family and friends.


Tulle said...

Dear Brother Francis.

Thnk you for sharing your Einsiedeln-adventure with us. It has been a real pleasure to follow you on your different trips around Switzerland, and I hope you have had a wonderful time there.

I wish you and Brother Mauritius a safe journey back to Saint Meinrad, and I hope Brother Mauritius will get to feel at home there. I look forward to reading more here once you have settled at home.

God bless,

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC said...

Ditto on what Tulle wrote. Thank you for making us travel and ponder with you.


Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC