Where did the St. Bernard Dog Come From?

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

We are all familiar with the majestic St. Bernard dog, that gentle giant of the canine world. The fascinating origins of this breed go back to the year 1670, to the St. Bernard Hospice, a Benedictine monastery nestled high in the Swiss Alps. Pilgrims often traveled through the St. Bernard Pass between Italy and Switzerland. Here they encountered blinding blizzards and treacherous avalanches. Brigands also robbed unsuspecting travelers who were left bleeding and penniless as they stumbled up to the doors of St. Bernard Monastery. Here they were provided safe refuge, thus living out the Benedictine Rule that “All guests who come shall be received as though they were Christ.”

Monks also saw a need to rescue pilgrims lost in deep snows. Over the centuries, they developed a breed of dog enormous in stature, able to navigate towering drifts, much like a canine version of a snowplow. These dogs were also trained to sniff out humans buried deep beneath the snow. 

The most famous of these rescue dogs was Barry der Menschenretter (people rescuer) who lived from 1800-1814. He is credited with saving the lives of forty people. In one rescue mission he found a child asleep in an icy cave. Barry licked the child’s face to bring back circulation and carried him back to the monastery.

Barry’s preserved body is on display at the Natural History Museum in Bern, Switzerland. In 2000, a special exhibition was held at the museum to honor a dog bred through the ingenuity of Catholic monks, part of the wider legacy of the Catholic Church in bringing Christian charity to the world, alleviating human suffering and misery down through the centuries. As historian Thomas E. Woods wrote, “The Catholic Church invented charity as we know it today.” This topic will be covered in future posts found at this website. Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Where did the St. Bernard Dog Come From?

  1. Thanks Kathryn for another very interesting bit of knowledge. We are blessed with your insights and talent. I am always eager to read your next blog. God Bless!

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