My apologies to those of you who've been stopping by this site for a daily update... Over the past two days we've been in a region of Switzerland called the Simmental – more on that later! And when you are in the 'Tal, the Internet is impossible to access, and you're better off without the distraction! So the next few posts will be catching up with our travels over these past several days.
Sometimes you visit a place simply because it is there, because it is important, and it figures into the history of some of your close neighbors. In the case of Einsiedeln Abbey, all three reasons would be true: it is only about 45 minutes from our friends in Lucerne; it is one of the major Benedictine Abbeys of Europe, let alone Switzerland; and it's the mother house to our Benedictine friends in the south of Indiana, the Archabbey of Saint Meinrad.
Einsiedeln was founded by St. Meinrad, and it commands the entire valley over which it gracefully presides. Michele and I arrived here for an afternoon and walked the grounds for several hours, and then attended Vespers in their magnificent (see the ceiling picture below) worship space.
The roots of this monastic community go back to the early 9th century, when Meinrad, seeking a contemplative life, chose this area as a secluded spot for his hermitage.
It seems, in all our travels, that whenever we run into the life of a saint, there also are stories of some association with wildlife. St. Patrick and snakes, St. Francis and the brother wolf, St. Kevin with birds nesting in his hands. Almost as if mere documentation will not suffice – they are legendary people, and therefore their stories must be told in legends. Here there is great similarity with the life of Meinrad. For after establishing his hermitage, he was brutally murdered by common thugs. But two ravens – birds that the saint had befriended and saved – chased the felons into the village, where the menwere captured and tried for their transgression.
Since that time, the raven has had special significance to this Abbey. The bird is part of their crest, and is woven into the ornate baroque decoration above the sanctuary of the church.
And then there is the Black Madonna – a breathtaking shrine within the actual church itself. This precious focal point of pilgrimage was seemingly carried off by soldiers of the French Revolution, but the troops had been set up with a fake: just before the invasion, the monks hid the ancient statue and hid it in Austria until the storms of war had passed.
When Michele and I joined the community for Vespers, the Benedictine monks made slow procession all the way through the church, youngest to oldest, and then gathered, huddled together inside the chapel before the Black Madonna. The "Salve Regina" they sang is very old – their own setting for men's harmony, not like anything I had ever heard before: ancient music, written simply for these Benedictines to close each day, written in the middle of the sixteenth century.
And pilgrims come here from all over the world. The languages that meet the traveler at then entrance of the church are in German and French, English – and, believe it or not, Hindi. The Black Madonna's embrace evidently has a special welcome for these wanderers.
Ravens, legends, Black Madonnas, cathedrals made of mountains, chant and architecture... How can a person not be changed by such a diet?
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