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Children’s Hospice Week: 22-28 June 2020

The Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham have a long tradition of raising awareness and funds for hospices, particularly Acorns Children’s Hospice in Selly Oak.

The earliest ‘hospice’ reference in our archive, from a school magazine published in 1878, is particularly interesting. In an article entitled ‘The Alps’ a pupil of King Edward’s School recounts the history of the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in Switzerland. Although not a children’s hospice, St Bernard’s is a remarkable story of refuge, care…and dogs!

Postcard showing the Great Saint Bernard Hospice, undated

 

The hospice stands at 2472m above sea level on the often-treacherous Great St. Bernard Pass in the Pennine Alps and has for centuries provided refuge to pilgrims and travellers heading to Italy. The Victorian schoolboy writing in the magazine explains:

 

King Edward’s School Chronicle, No. 38. Vol. III. February 16th, 1878

 

The first alpine hospice was founded in the eleventh century by Saint Bernard of Menthon, the Archdeacon of Aosta, providing both refuge and a place of worship (the presence of a church on the site is documented as far back as 1125).

 

Postcard of Saint Bernard of Menthon with rescue dog, undated

 

Saint Bernard of Menthon gave his name to the hospice, the mountain pass and of course the famous dog! The schoolboy writes in his article of “the world-renowned dogs” and the pivotal role they played in alpine search and rescue:

 

King Edward’s School Chronicle, No. 38. Vol. III. February 16th, 1878

The Saint Bernard breed became popular around the world appearing on posters and advertisements

 

The hospice’s most famous rescue dog was Barry der Menschretter whose legendary rescues made him a hero of book and film

 

King Edward’s School Chronicle, No. 38. Vol. III. February 16th, 1878

Barry der Menschretter, Berne Natural History Museum (credit: Swissinfo.ch)

 

There are many enduring myths surrounding Barry’s heroism, including the tale of him hoisting a toddler onto his back and carrying it to the safety of the hospice.  Myths and legends aside, these mountain rescue dogs and the hospice monks have saved the lives of countless travellers trekking the perilous path through the Pennine Alps. Once rescued, the survivors found care, food and warmth in the snowy shelter of the Great Saint Bernard Hospice, which to this day welcomes hikers, pilgrims and passing guests.