For centuries people have tried to traverse the Alps through passes that were more than 8,000 feet high and always covered with snow. Many didn’t succeed and simply froze to death, their corpses covered with new snow, never to be discovered.
In the year 982, high in the Alps, a French nobleman who had renounced his wealth to become a monk built two shelters for pilgrims on their way to Rome and for any other adventurous travelers who faced the rigors of uncertain weather conditions while crossing over what came to be called the Great St. Bernard Pass and the Little St. Bernard Pass. This man, who was canonized in 1691, is known throughout the world as St. Bernard de Menthon (923-1008).
The dog known as St. Bernard was bred by monks long after the death of St. Bernard, and the dogs are still trained at the Alpine hospice. The heaviest of breeds, they measure up to six feet in length. Their ancestor has not been established, but some believe that the Molossus hound, imported from Asia, might have been crossed with a Newfoundland breed.
This breed has generated many heart-warming stories, foremost of which may be one of Barry, whose statue adorns the St. Bernard Hospice. Barry has been credited with saving at least forty lives during a ten-year period. One story concerns Barry’s finding a small child unconscious in the snow. Barry warmed the chile with its breath and licked his hands and face, rousing him from what might have been a deadly sleep. By various movements, Barry got the child to climb on its back, then carried the child safely to the hospice.