Canada Slim and the Island of Anywhere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 14 January 2018

“This could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. 

´Cause Rotterdam is anywhere. 

Anywhere alone.  Anywhere alone.”

(The Beautiful South, “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)”, Blue is the Colour)

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There are a couple of songs that I enjoy listening to from this group:

“Don´t Marry Her” – purely for its shock value.

“Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” – for the feelings its lyrics inevitably generate within me.

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Above: Rotterdam

My wife recently bought me a new computer whose kinks and quirks I have yet to comprehend and overcome.

But these First World problems could have happened to anyone anywhere in the First World.

The sadness and annoyance at yet another piece of technology in my possession suddenly becoming obsolete, the frustration of having to master yet another new machine, I believe, are common emotions of someone of my generation trying to cope with the tools of a more modern time that make us sometimes feel obsolete as well.

During a break between completed errands in town and waiting for a train to take me to my only teaching job (at present) I spontaneously decided to visit the public library across the square from the Bahnhof (Train Station) St. Gallen.

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Above: Bahnhof St. Gallen

To the library´s credit they do possess more English language books than I do in my own personal library (though my wife doesn´t believe this to be true).

Spontaneously I grab the works of three authors whose writing I have hesitated to read for various irrational reasons: Jonathan Ames (because he has struck me as being elitist), Maya Angelou (too urban with themes common to the USA but almost unrecognizable to white Canadians) and Margaret Atwood (out of pure and simple jealousy for her success rather than any logical premise at all).

I need to grow beyond myself and try to read authors for the value and power of their words rather than reject them without reading their works because of stupid preconceptions.

I begin with Ames´  Wake Up, Sir! for the simplest reason of all: his name takes precedence alphabetically.

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My attempts to dispel my prejudices about Ames do not begin well….

In Chapter One, the damned hero of the book has a valet!

But I must admit that the opening situation of the book is one with which I can relate to….

Alan Blair, the protagonist of the novel, is awoken by his valet and informed that – Horror of Horrors! – his uncle is already up and about.

“It was only under these alarming circumstances that Jeeves would interrupt my eight hours of needed unconsciousness.

He knew that the happiness of my morning was dependent on having as little contact with said uncle as possible.”

I love my wife, but, like Blair´s uncle, she does not see how important solitude is to producing literature (or in my case, semblances of literature).

Like Uncle Irwin, my wife (being the well-organized German woman she is) has schedules that she adheres to, with a discipline well-trained soldiers would appreciate.

So, when she alters her schedule, I find myself suddenly in a funk and am uncertain as to how to recapture my muse with the alarming alteration of her presence demanding attention to herself rather than any attempts of creation I might be fostering.

Art is more akin to spontaneous ejaculations of expression and emotion, but even I realize that some amount of order and self-control are required to produce something worthy to be published.

Much like Uncle Irwin, my wife views sitting down and producing words on a computer (dead laptop or recently acquired mystery machine notwithstanding) akin to a kind of laziness.

For surely there are better things I could be doing with my time, such as household duties (husbands are, after all, unpaid valets), finding more employment as a teacher or requesting more hours at my “temporary” job as a barista.

She feels, and rightly so, that the inequality of our incomes puts an unjust burden upon her, but, in my defence, I argue that her education should leave her with a larger income than me and that money, as pleasant as it can be, is not the only criteria when it comes to devoting 80% of our lives to a job.

When work presents itself I do not shirk my responsibilities, but by the same token I do not want my life to be nothing more than living to pay bills.

I have more leisure time than she does as a doctor, but I would be lying if I said that I am not glad that I do.

I like having mornings to myself when I can write, or evenings when she has gone to bed exhausted and I am writing my electronic journal.

I like working weekends when the Café closes earlier than weekdays, leaving me free during the week – when I am not teaching – to go hiking or travelling while average people are chained to their workplaces.


It is a fine thing to go hiking on a Sunday, but nature is truly a wonderland on a Wednesday when most everyone is working leaving the wilderness to myself alone.

That having been said, my ability to travel would not be possible (at least in the same manner I have grown accustomed to since we got married) were it not for her superior income.

And, understandably, she wants to have leisure time to travel as well, though her desire for solitude is rarer for her than mine is.

So, except for conferences, when she travels I usually accompany her.

And, it must be said, as too swift as our travelling together can be, travelling alone can, on occasion, make a place feel like Rotterdam or anywhere.

I can appreciate a sunset alone, but sharing that same sunset does lend the dying day a certain poignancy that solitude does not.

There is an Island that we both visited this past summer that listening to “Rotterdam (or Anywhere)” always brings to mind, for had I not been with her not only might I not have seen the Island, I might not have appreciated it without her by my side.

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Monte Isola, Italy, 4 August 2018

Traffic-free Monte Isola, Italy´s largest lake island, at over 3 km long and 600 metres / 1,969 feet high, at the south of the Lago d´Iseo, is defined by Italian legislation as an “area of particular importance from the natural and environmental point of view”.

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Above: Monte Isola

(Bureaucrats should never write travel literature.)

Accessible by hourly ferries from the lakeside ports of Iseo and Sulzano, Monte Isola is a magnet for daytrippers in summers and at weekends, so the Island then is unlikely to provide much solitude.

Still, mid-season or out of season, the Island is well worth a visit, to walk or cycle around the edge of the Island and for great views of the lake.

The population of the Island (1,800 inhabitants) is spread over 11 villages and hamlets.

There are several churches built between the 15th and the 17th centuries with frescoes, statues and altars in vernacular art.

With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres / 4.9 square miles, Monte Isola ranks as the largest lake island not only in Italy, but also in Central and South Europe.

Monte Isola within Lake Iseo

(The world´s largest lake island is Canadian: Manitoulin Island.)

The Island is served and reached by two main ports: Carzano to the north and Peschera Maraglio to the south.

There are indications of a Roman settlement, but the Island is first mentioned in a written document in 905 when it was listed among the properties of the monastery of San Salvatore in Brescia.

The family Oldofredi, rulers of Iseo, built two strongholds on the Island in the 11th to the 19th centuries.

One of these, on the lower promontory of the Island, covered by olive tree and wine cultivation, is the Rocca Oldofredi-Martinego, built in the 14th century as a strategic and defense point and then turned into a residence by the Martinegos during the Italian Renaissance.

Members of the powerful Visconti family came to the Island to hunt in 1400.

In 1497 Francesco Sforza, the Duke of Milan, gave the islanders some fishing rights and reduced their taxes.

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Above: Francesco Sforza (1401 – 1466)

In the same year, Caterina Cornaro, Queen and last monarch of Cyprus, resided a while on the Island.

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Above: Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510)

During the 19th century the main industry on the Island was the construction of boats and the manufacturing of fishing nets.

In 2016, Monte Isola was the site of the Floating Piers by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Above: The Floating Piers

In Peschiera Maraglio is the single-nave Church of San Michele Arcangelo.

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Consecrated in 1648, this baroque church is notable for the many frescoes on the walls and ceiling and for its wooden carvings.

Climb the mountain from the small village of Cure in the middle of the Island.

The peak offers the most panoramic site of the Lago and from here it is possible to admire all the villages of both lakeshores, the natural reserve of Torbiere del Sebino and a large part of the mainland.

At the top, amongst walnut woods and ancient dolomite rocks stands the Shrine of the Madonna della Ceriola.

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This 13th century church was the first parish church on the Island and the Madonna, the protectress not only of the inhabitants of Monte Isola but the entirety of Lago Iseo, is represented by a 12th century seated wooded sculpture carved from the trunk of a turkey oak.

Wander the Island and feel soothed by the barely tamed bushy copse woods containing oak, bay, hornbeam, ash and fruit chestnut trees.

Brown kites fly above, while wild ducks and great crested grebes swim below.

Agriculture, once an island mainstay, is nowadays practised more as a hobby, yet, nonetheless, it is the maintenance of this ancient art that still plays a crucial role in the preservation of the landscape heritage, preventing the Island being overdeveloped as a Tourist resort similar to other major northern Italian lakes such as Garda and Como.

The 1,800 inhabitants of this lake oasis move about by motorcycle or mini-buses which connect all hamlets and the two main ports.

All connections to and from the mainland run between Peschiera Maraglio and mainland Sulzano (the route we took) or between Carzano and mainland Sale Marasino.

This ferry service, operated by Navigazione Lago d´Iseo, runs every 15 to 20 minutes from 0500 to midnight and every 40 minutes between midnight and 5 a.m.

On Monte Isola cars are banned and the only cars allowed are the ones used for community services (ambulance, doctor, police, priest and taxi).

Motorcycles are for the exclusive use of permanent Monte Isola residents.

Bicycles can be rented in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano.

It takes about an hour to circumnavigate the Island by bike.

But it is recommended to walk.

Stroll down the old mule tracks….

(The tracks are old.

Not sure about the mules.)

And the paths leading from the Lago to the top of the Island and to the Shrine.

This is an extremely interesting site, both from a natural and an artistic point of view.

The island´s littlest church contains contemplative quiet beauty and is both the oldest and the highest point on Monte Isola.

The rest of the Island itself is worth a look and a linger.

Artistic churches surrounded by tiny squares and large pale stone houses, sunny arcades, companionable courtyards, lovely landscapes, a rough and simple people  –  some still using ancient wooden farm tools – set in a solid and certain architecture and proud heritage.

Siviano, the most populated hamlet, is the central core of the community.

Above: Siviano

Here, here, is the town hall, the Kindergarten, the Primary School and the Secondary School, the post office, the bank, the two supermarkets.

Peschiera Maraglio, the main harbour of Monte Isola, has a tourist office, another bank, a chemist´s, another Kindergarten, many restaurants, hotels and shops.

Here we gather at the water and cast our nets.

Above: Peschiera Maraglio

Carzano was also a fishermen´s village, also all about the fish and fish preservation.

Here, every five years, the fishing folk decorate all the streets of the village with handmade paper flowers to celebrate the religious feast of the Holy Cross, drawing more than 10,000 visitors to watch the spectacle.

Here on Monte Isola it is possible to sleep in small silent hotels and to savour the endless ways to eat a fish.

Here the olive oil is extra virgin…

(Not sure about the girls…)

The lake sardines are salted, dried and bottled in oil….

(Much like the tourists…)

And salami flavoured in unique Monte Isola ways….

(Similar to the local ladies?)

The wife and I strolled from Peschiera´s docks, occasionally popping into shops and then settled ourselves down by the shore to watch children splash joyfully in the water.

Ute swam for hours while I read some forgettable tome important only at that and for that moment.

Day Five of our vacation and this day we had driven (or to be precise she drove us) from Bregamo to Sulzano, via Crespi d´Adda and Clusone.

We parked the car near the ferry port in Sulzano and waited for the boat to arrive.

A man in an ambulance gurney is taken off the boat, an ambulance waiting to take him to an emergency room in some nearby town with a hospital.

Was he a resident?  A tourist?

Neither our Italian nor our courage was up to the task of enquiring as to the patient´s identity or circumstances.

On the Island while my wife waded amongst the crowd of mer-children the chilly recollection of the gurney man remained with me but not in a sad or morbid way.

I love my wife, but I won´t deny that my brain wanders off and wonders what it would be like to go somewhere, anywhere, and retreat to an “isolated” spot and devote myself solely to my writing.

(Of course, this is with the assumption that I have the financial means to do this, which, sadly, I do not.)

I fantasize about finding some remote village like Ezra Pound´s Rapallo, or some tranquil wilderness vista like Henry David Thoreau´s Walden Pond, or some artistic alcove like Ernest Hemingway´s in Paris, and devote myself purely to doing nothing but creation.

In my mind´s eye I see myself typing some novel or a magazine article in the early hours before dawn, strolling through the just-waking village to watch the sunrise and smell the baker´s first bread and rolls being prepared for sale, more writing in my small den until lunchtime, lounging in some intimate café soaking the afternoon sun into my bones like some self-indulgent cat, strolling to the harbour to see what cast of characters the lake has spawned this day, more writing just before sunset, down to the beach to watch the sun dissolve into dream tides of amnesiac waters, then walk with purpose and anticipation to my favourite restaurant and slowly sip glass after glass of some local wine until fatigue quietly whispers to me to return back to my bed.

I am not quite certain exactly where my writer´s retreat would be or whether it even could be.

My mind has had this writer´s retreat in Paris, in Ticino and Graubünden, in Lisbon, in Istanbul, and now on Monte Isola.

It wouldn´t have to be in Monte Isola or Istanbul, Lisbon or Paris, or in some remote hamlet in southern Switzerland or northern Italy.

It could be here.

It could be anywhere.

Wherever I go, there I am.

I think about the story of Caterina Cornaro (1454 – 1510), the last Queen of Cyprus (1474 – 1510), how she came to be a temporary resident here on Monte Isola after her husband died and Venice claimed control over Cyprus.

What must it have been like to be an exiled and deposed queen and living in isolation in an old fortress on an Island which has always been barely recognized by anyone?

Did she see her future as nothing more than a destiny of disillusioned despair and diminishment?

Does one need to be defeated, disillusioned and diminished before escaping to a retreat?

(Similar to Colin Firth´s character Jamie, in the film Love…Actually, retreating to a French cottage after he discovers his girlfriend having an affair with his brother.)

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I hope not.

Though my time on Monte Isola was short, decidedly too short –  time (and my wife) waits for no one and we had booked accommodation down the road some distance in Sirmione by Lago di Garda – I am still left with the desire to return some day to Monte Isola.

As good a place as anywhere.


Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir! / The Rough Guide to Italy /




Canada Slim and the Monks of the Dark Forest

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 8 January 2018

The Common Era year 2017 ended a week ago, which means the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation also ended.

1 January 2018 was the 534th anniversary of the birth of Huldrych Zwingli, the Swiss German-speaking Reformer, whose life I have been retracing on foot through the advice of Marcel and Yvonne Steiner´s Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis – Ein Wander- und Lesebuch since 10 October 2018.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)

(Please see Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, Canada Slim and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, Canada Slim and the Thundering Hollows, Canada Slim and the Basel Butterfly Effect, Canada Slim and the Vienna Waltz, and Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul of this blog for an account of the life of Zwingli in Wildhaus, Weesen, Basel, Vienna and Glarus and an account of my own experiences with these places.)

So, by all accounts, you, gentle Reader, should now be spared any more mention of Zwingli and the Reformation in Switzerland, but both Zwingli´s life and my adventures following his life did not end in Glarus.

The abovementioned book of the Steiners divides the on foot exploration of Zwingli´s life into nine stages, four of which I have walked and written about.

What follows in today´s blog is a description of my attempts to follow Zwingli from Glarus to Zürich.

There will still remain the final stage of both the book and Zwingli´s life to be followed from Zürich to his final destination of Kappel am Albis, which will be written about in a future blogpost.

I ask for the reader´s patience in retracing Zwingli´s and my footsteps, for what it is discovered en route should make for interesting reading.

(I hope.)


Glarus, Switzerland, 23 November 2017 (American Thanksgiving)

A man must accept his limitations or those limitations placed upon him.

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My limitations are time (I live and work in Switzerland and obligations of my domestic life and my professional life as barista and teacher must be taken into account.), money (As much as my wife is supportive of my little pet projects she doesn´t like to see money spent too “frivolously” on overnight accommodation if a return home the same day of a hike can be arranged.) and season (Much of Switzerland´s infrastructure closed down once winter has begun and a decrease of daylight were factors that had to be considered.).

As previously mentioned in former blogposts, the Steiners don´t claim that the walking routes they recommend were actually walked by Zwingli himself, just that they lead to places where he once resided.

The Steiners recommended, in a two-stage, two-day walk, that the historic walker could walk from Glarus to Einsiedeln via the Klontalersee and the Saaspass.

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Above: Klon Valley Lake, Canton Glarus

I was keen to do so, but uncertainty as to whether these routes would be passable and visible or if they were blocked by snow, and the inability to return from the Klon Valley Lake by bus back to Glarus before darkness set in, made me reconsider the wisdom of walking to Einsiedeln in winter without the proper gear.

Arriving in Glarus and learning that buses between the Lake and Glarus were not running until April, I returned to the train station and instead decided to make the journey by train.

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Above: Glarus Railway Station

Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

The small village of Einsiedeln in the hills of northern Schwyz Canton has been Switzerland´s most important site of pilgrimage for a thousand years and still draws a quarter of a million devout believers every year.

The village itself is unremarkable, but the mighty Benedictine monastery which dominates it is exceptional, and worth a detour whether you are drawn by faith or curiosity.

Einsiedeln means hermitage and is named for St. Meinrad the Hermit, a monk from the monastery of Reichenau, who withdrew to what was then wilderness known as the Dark Forest in 828 AD.


Meinrad was born circa 800, somewhere between the German towns of Tübingen and Rottenburg.

His parents sent him to the world-famous monastic school at Reichenau, where he later entered the monastery.

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Above: Reichenau Coat of Arms

However, his true vocation was for the life of a hermit.

He withdrew into the solitude of the Dark Forest.

The spot where the Lady Chapel stands today is where Meinrad built his hermit´s cell and oratory in 835.

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He built a small chapel and living quarters and remained there 26 years until the day of his death.

And it was where he was murdered by two thieves on 21 January 861 after a life of self-denial and prayer.

They found nothing of value, because he had taken a vow of poverty and had always given away everything he received.

Two ravens that lived with Meinrad pursued the murderers and brought their crime to light.

The murderers were arrested and burnt at the stake for their crime

In commemoration of this the Abbey of Einsiedeln has since the 13th century borne two ravens on its coat of arms.

Meinrad´s body was retrieved by the monks from Reichenau and returned to their monastery, where he was reverently laid to rest.

(His body was sometime later returned to Einsiedeln where it is considered the Abbey´s most precious relic.

Meinrad´s head reposes in a silver case in the high altar of the Church.

Meinrad´s skull has got a fissure from the blow of a club.)

Following Meinrad´s death, his hermitage remained deserted for more than 40 years.

Eventually Benno, a priest from Strasbourg, settled there with a number of followers, cleared the forest and rebuilt the chapel.

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Above: Strasbourg Cathedral

Benno and his followers built cells in the neighbourhood, living as hermits in an informal brotherly union.

In September 934, a relation of Benno named Eberhard of Nellenburg came to the Meinradzelle with a larger following and considerable financial resources and founded a Benedictine community, becoming the monastery´s first abbott.

Emperor Otto I (912 – 973) was in the process of building up a powerful empire like his great predecessor Charlemagne.

To do this he needed the support of the Church against the over-mighty princes and nobles of his realm.

Otto made bishops and abbots into worldly leaders and conferred upon them far-reaching powers and extensive landholdings.

The young monastery “in the depths of the forest” was no exception.

In the year 934 Otto signed the Document for Immediacy, making the monastery directly answerable to himself.

Abbott Eberhard invited the Bishop of Konstanz to perform the consecration of a new church on the site on 14 September 948.

The Bishop was about to do so, when a voice was heard ringing through the church, insisting three times over that God Himself had already consecrated the church.


God Himself has consecrated this building.”

(This Miraculous Consecration was a real time saver)

The Pope declared this to be a miracle and issued a papal bull blessing the pilgrimage to Einsiedeln.

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Above: John XI, Pope (931 – 935)

From then on, the monastery enjoyed special privilege, with large royal grants and positions of honour for the abbots.

Duchess Regenlind of Swabia and the Ottonian emperors provided the monastery with generous endowments, as the young religious community typified the monastic ideal.

This is attested by the works produced in the Abbey´s scriptorium.

This secular protection became a permanent bone of contention.

When the arch enemies of the Swiss, the Habsburgs took over the protectorship of the monastery in 1283, the conflict came to a head.

On the night of Epiphany 1314, the Swiss attacked the monastery, plundered it and held the monks captive for weeks.

The Habsburgs now had an excuse for the punitive expedition they had long planned against the Swiss.

However, this ended in a defeat for the Habsburgs at Morgarten, and after the Battle of Sempach, the Swiss forced the Habsburgs to return the protectorship of the monastery to them.

In the 13th century admission to the novitiate in Einsiedeln became restricted to the nobility, so by the late Middle Ages the Abbey´s membership had fallen sharply.

By 1286 the Chapel of Our Lady, built over the remains of Meinrad´s cell, was already a focal point.

It was adorned after a destructive fire in 1468 with a statuette of Mary with the infant Christ, carved in wood some time before 1440.

It is this figure which became the focus of pilgrimage as the Black Madonna.

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Monza, Italy, 8 – 13 September 1515

Zwingli had marched as armed chaplain for the Glarner battalion six days from the Septimer Pass to Milan and Monza.

On Saturday 8 September, Zwingli preached a sermon from the Loggia of the Palazzo del Arengario to the assembled representatives of the fighting strength, Swiss Confederation troops and additional fighting partners.

In his sermon Zwingli warned them of defeat against the French due to disagreement within the Confederation.

Above: Basilica di San Giovanni, Melegnano (formerly Marignano)

On Sunday the Pope and the leaders of the Holy League held a Council of War here.

The attack on Marignano took place on the following Thursday 13 September due to pressure from Cardinal Schiner resulting in disastrous defeat.

Above: Battle of Marignano, 13 – 14 September 1515

Zwingli experienced, at close range, the power and political decisions of the Pope´s regency and the fatal dependence of the Confederation on mercenary warfare.

He became increasingly more doubtful of the mercenary situation.

The decisive defeat of the Swiss in the Battle of Marignano caused a shift in mood at Glarus in favour of the French rather than the Pope.

Zwingli, the papal partisan, found himself in rather a difficult position and decided to retreat to Einsiedeln.

By this time, Zwingli had become convinced that mercenary service was immoral and that Swiss unity was indispensable for any future achievements.

Some of his earliest writing, such as The Ox (1510) and The Labyrinth (1516) attacked the mercenary system using allegory and satire.

His countrymen were presented as virtuous people caught within a French, imperial and papal triangle.

Zwingli stayed in Einsiedeln for two years during which he withdrew completely from politics in favour of ecclesiastical activities and personal studies and contemplation.

Later Zwingli would write:

“I started to preach the Christian Gospel in 1516.”

His Bible studies and practical experience during his decade in Glarus were decisive contributing factors.

On the eve of the Reformation, there were only two monks left in the monastery, one who occupied the office of abbott and the other of administrator.

All pastoral duties were carried out by chaplains, amongst them Huldrych Zwingli.

As people´s priest in Einsiedeln, Zwingli took the time to consider the whole.

His humanistic competence, contacts and studies for a reliable Interpretation of the Bible absorbed him.

He came to the conclusion in Einsiedeln that essential revision was necessary within the Church and the Confederation.

The guiding principle and compass for that revision had to be the message exclusively from the Bible.

“You are God´s tools.

He requires your service, not your inactivity.”

His time in Glarus and Einsiedeln was characterised by inner growth and development.

Zwingli perfected his Greek and took up the study of Hebrew.

His personal library contained over three hundred volumes from which he was able to draw upon classical and scholastic works.

He exchanged correspondence with a circle of Swiss humanists and began to study the works of Erasmus.


Above: Desiderus Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 – 1536)

Zwingli took the opportunity to meet Erasmus when the Dutchman was in Basel between August 1514 and May 1516.

Zwingli´s turn to relative pacifism and his focus on preaching can be traced to the influence of Erasmus.


Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 23 November 2017

At the beginning of the 16th century the monastery was headed towards total disintegration.

The Schwyzians, the patrons of the monastery, stepped in and turned to St. Gallen for a new abbott.

Coat of arms of Kanton Schwyz

Above: Coat of Arms of Canton Schwyz

He saved the monastery by opening up the novitiate to commoners.

The monastery complex was rebuilt from 1704 to 1726 in the most lavish of late-Baroque styles, the handiwork of monk Kaspar Moosbrugger.

The baroque Abbey was still new when the French occupied Switzerland after the Revolution.

On 3 May 1798, 6000 soldiers under General Schauenburg invaded the area, confiscated the Abbey and expelled the Abbot and monks.

On their flight to St. Gerold in Austria, they were able to take only their most valuable possessions.

Above: Benedictine monastery, Sankt Gerold, Austria

Schauenburg allowed his soldiers to plunder the Abbey and in the two weeks that followed they removed everything they could carry away.

The officers made one another presents to the magnificent horses from the Abbey stables, the library was completely sacked and the Church desecrated.

The miraculous statue of the Black Madonna was dispatched to Paris where it proved to be an imitation.

The monks had replaced the original before the arrival of the French and smuggled it to Austria.

To put a stop to pilgrimages for all time, the French then destroyed the Lady Chapel.

Three years later, after Napoleon had seized power in France, the Abbott and monks were able to return  – to a picture of devastation.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the monastery´s sphere of activities entered a period of marked growth.

In 1854 it founded the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana, and in 1925 worked to establish an agricultural school in Pfäffikon on the Lake of Zürich.

Above: St. Meinrad Archabbey Church, Indiana

In 1948 the Abbey founded the Priory of Los Toldos in Argentina.

Above: Monasterio Benedictino Santa Maria, Los Toldos, Argentina

The former small abbey school was expanded into a grammar/high school which is frequented by 300 boys and girls.

In 2008 the convent numbered 80 monks.

Einsiedeln´s train station and post office are in the town centre opposite Dorfplatz.

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Above: Einsiedeln Train Station

I headed through this square and turned left onto Hauptstrasse, following other obvious tourists flowing towards this edifice at the end of the street overlooking Klosterplatz – a ten-minute walk.

As you emerge from the cluster of the village centre, the vast Klosterplatz opens out in front.

The rather plain sandstone front of the Church, with its twin towers rising from an immense 140 metre long facade, is framed by unusual semicircular sunken arcades.

The ornate Well of Our Lady in the square taps the waters of Meginrat´s spring – pilgrims traditionally drink from each of the fourteen spouts in turn on their approach to the Church.

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The interior is breathtaking.

The nave is decorated with detailed frescoes by Cosmas Damian Asam.

Every part of the lofty white interior is detailed in lavish gold.

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An intricate wrought-iron choir screen gives into the stunning pink Rococo choir with a ceiling bedecked with animated sculptures of angels.

However the focus of all the pilgrims´ attention is the black marble Chapel of Our Lady, positioned in a huge octagonal bay just inside the main portal.

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The Black Madonna, a little over one metre tall and usually dressed in a jewelled and tasselled golden dress donated by Canton Uri in 1734, stands illuminated within.

Every day, the monks of Einsiedeln sing the anthem “Salve Regina” (“Hail to thee, oh Queen, Mother of Mercy”) in the chapel of the Black Madonna.

The Salve has been sung since 1547.

In his book Poetry and Truth, Goethe described the Chapel:

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Above: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

“The little chapel in the church, the hermit´s cell inhabited by the saint, is encrusted with marble and as far as possible transformed into a decent chapel.

It was something new to me, something I had never seen before, this tiny compartment, surrounded and enclosed by pillars and domes.

It led me to think that a single spark of piety and morality had ignited an eternally burning flame to which crowds of pilgrims were to undertake their arduous journey in order to light their own candles at the holy flame.

Be that as it may, it indicates a deep longing on the part of humanity for the same light, the same warmth, such as the first hermit Meinrad drew from his deepest inner conviction.”

Pilgrims often ask:

“Why is the Madonna black?”

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There is one obvious explanation: the soot from candles, incense and oil lamps has darkened the original colour gradually through the ages.

The flight from the French did the Madonna no good either, and she suffered greatly from damp weather.

Before the Madonna returned from Austria, an artist restored the statue returning the face and hands of the Virgin and the skin of the Christ Child the colour of flesh.

Then the monks in exile set the image up for a few days for public viewing in front of the church in Bludenz.

Above: The Priory of St. Peter, Bludenz, Austria

The appearance of a black Madonna had become so popular and the disappointment so great that the artist repainted the skin black.

It would never change.

Einsiedeln remains a fully functioning monastic community of 80 priests and 20 brothers.

Mass is celebrated several times a day.

Of the many annual pilgrimage festivals, the most colourful is the Feast of the Miraculous Consecration on 14 September, which culminates in a candlelit procession around the square.

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Let me blunt.

My first gut reaction to Einsiedeln was, and mostly remains, here is yet another big fancy church.

I remember walking Jakobsweg (St. James Way) from Rapperswil to Einsiedeln.

(“Europe was created on St. James Way.”, Goethe once wrote.

He was not wrong, for the history of the St. James Way is deeply connected with the history of Europe and was therefore deemed a part of the world´s cultural heritage in 1987.

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St. James Way consists of a wide net of routes which spread across Europe like many loose threads that intertwine as they head toward Santiago de Compostela in Spain where the supposed remains of St. James were found by a hermit in a neighbouring field.)

I remember visiting Einsiedeln with my wife in the first summer we lived in Switzerland (2010) and feeling overwhelmed by the thousands of tourists that seemed to be visiting the Abbey that same day.

But I know that Einsiedeln Abbey and the town itself deserved a second look.

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Einsiedeln, Switzerland, 4 January 2018

(For more on this day, please see …and the ravens cried “Nevermore” of my other blog Building Everest.)

To the non-follower of Catholicism, the cult of Marianism (the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as being divine because God decided to choose her to bear His Son, thus making her the instrument through which we can get intercession from God) seems quite strange and somewhat smacking of idolatry.

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Yet this veneration of Mary encompasses prayer, acts of piety, visual arts, poetry and music.

Popes encourage it, but are always cautioning Catholics not to confuse respect for her duty with any actual divinity said duty may have given her.

Let there be no doubt.

Einsiedeln Abbey is most definitely a Marian pilgrimage site.

In 1996, the working group Shrines of Europe was founded with the purpose of uniting Europe´s principal Marian pilgrimage sites, which now are listed as Fatima, Portugal; Altötting, Germany; Loreto, Italy; Czestochowa, Poland; Lourdes, France; Einsiedeln, Switzerland; and Mariazell, Austria.

Shrines of Europe

“At all these holy places, pilgrims hope to gain a new sense of the message given to them by their belief.

The strain and occurences which they experience on their way there give them more insight.

Their experiences at the holy place itself provide many people with new strength and energy – for the story they hear of the shrine, the rituals which are held, and the praying people all create an atmosphere in which the soul can open and find peace.”

A wet and stormy day finds me back in Einsiedeln on this my first day off after two days working.

I revisit the Abbey Church and remain impressed by the frescoes and stucco works and the gorgeous Baroque architecture.

I wonder at the devotion of the half-dozen worshippers praying by the Lady Chapel´s Black Madonna.

I will miss hearing the Gregorian Vesper at 1630 and the Salve Regina singing that will follow, but console myself with the thought of buying an audiovisual record of them in the Cloister Shop.

I view the Great Hall, the audience chamber of the monastery and can well imagine a concert filling the place with magnificent music.

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I long to visit the Abbey Library with rare manuscripts and books Dating back to the foundation of the monastery in the 10th century, but am told that the Library can only be visited as part of a large guided German-language tour.

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I risk life and limb walking treacherous ice to visit the stables behind the monastery to find lady grooms unwelcoming and horses indifferent.

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The monastery´s stables are considered to be the oldest stud farm in Europe still in operation.

The baroque stables were built between 1764 and 1767.

Einsiedeln Abbey horses were highly admired all over Europe.

In Italy they were known as the Cavalli della Madonna (the Madonna´s cavalry).

Yet there is more to Einsiedeln than just the Abbey, for it is a place not only of pilgrimage but as well culture.

See the Jerusalem Panorama that shows the Crucifixion from Good Friday until All Saints´ Day.

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See the Bethlehem Diorama illustrating the Christmas story complete with announcement-receiving shepherds, the Nativity Scene (minus a little drummer boy), the arrival of the Three Kings (no, not George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, but instead Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) and the Holy Family´s escape to Egypt, from All Saints´ Day to Epiphany.

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Cross the Devil´s Bridge, a stone bridge covered by a wooden roof on St. James Way, constructed in 1699 to transport the stones needed to construct the monastery from the quarry on the Etzel River to Einsiedeln.

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In the middle of the bridge is a statue of St. John of Nepomuk.

The famous physician Paracelsus was born close to the bridge in 1493.

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Above: Theophrastus von Hohenheim aka Paracelsus (1493 – 1541)

I will never again make a gingerbread latté without thinking of the Goldapfel Gingerbread Bakery Museum with its old baking utensils and wooden forms, and the sale of Schaffböcke, or pilgrim biscuits, made from flour, water, honey and spices or the brown and white filled Kräpfli or speciality gingerbread.

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In the cellar of the Bethlehem Diorama is the Museum of Minerals, a collection of over 1,000 minerals from all over the world – from Alpine quartz to colourful crystals from China and South America.

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A special feature is the flourescent cabin where inconspicuous stones reveal an unexpected blaze of colours under ultaviolet light.

The Fram Museum is an historical museum about Einsiedeln, dedicated to the most important events during the town´s long history, including the Benzinger Publishing Company and the famous physician/alchemist Paracelsus.

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And there are activities to enjoy besides museums and buildings of holy intent:

You can swim off Roblosen Beach on Lake Sihl, or in the Hallenbad indoor swimming pool or at the Alpamare water park.

Cruising on Switzerland´s largest reservoir, Lake Sihl, is an unforgettable natural experience.

Catch a movie in the cinema, play minigolf, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, enjoy a ride aboard the Blatten Garden steam train, take a tandem hang glide, indulge yourself with a luxury tour on an original Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, visit the largest and newest indoor beach volleyball complex in Switzerland or play on one of three outdoor volleyball courts.

There are bike paths and hiking trails, rope parks and rope slides, an 18-hole golf course and windsurfing on the lake.

There is a cable car, Europe´s longest hanging footbridge, a summer toboggan run, a bouncy castle and playgrounds for the kids in nearby Sattel.

Not far away in Gossau, you can visit the Landscape and Animal Park – 34 hectares that is home to more than 100 different native and European species living in almost wild conditions.

Feed the deer, see the bears, howl with the wolves.

The military buff amongst the group will be delighted to find that the Canton of Schwyz has the Reduit Defence Line, a series of more than 400 interconnected fortifications, restored and refurbished with original Equipment including Fort Grynau, antitank defences, artillery casemates, a control centre and a fire control post.

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Between Einsiedeln and the Lake of Zürich in Schindellegi, you can experience the most modern ski jumps in Switzerland and the training ground of four-time Olympic gold medal winner Simon Ammann up close and personal.

A resurrected Meinrad the Hermit probably would no longer recognize what Einsiedeln has become, but I have the distinct impression he might not be displeased at what he would see.

Sources: Wikipedia / Google / Monika Hanna, Der Schweizer Jakobsweg: Vom Bodensee zum Vierwaldstättersee / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis / Rough Guide to Switzerland /  Einsiedeln Tourismus / Kloster Einsiedeln


Canada Slim and the Lady of Lovere

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 1 January 2018

As another New Year begins the question turns to New Year´s resolutions, to make them or avoid them, and if made what those resolutions should be.

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Above: New Year´s Eve, Sydney, Australia

For example, some of us resolve to become fitter in the following twelve months, but those that know us know better than us that the sacrifice of time, effort and money required to do so isn´t truly who we are or really want to be.

Sometimes a person can be too close to a situation to properly see it for what it is.

Two women in my life recently caused themselves and others great friction, because they never accepted that their behaviour is harmful and refused to change their behaviour, despite being warned of consequences.

In fairness to them, it is often difficult to see beyond our own perspectives, regardless of what is said to us or what happens around us.

For example, I never truly appreciated how much I am liked by some of my regular customers when two evenings ago one of them spontaneously entered the Café and gave me a hug wishing me “Happy Holidays”.

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It wasn´t until I have reflected upon this several hours later that I realised that my response might not have been as warm and welcoming to him as it should have been.

Visiting him at his place of business bearing gifts of apology and remorse for my unintended coldheartedness is the first of my New Year´s resolutions.

For every person there are also situations that trigger a kind of blindness that makes it difficult to see anything besides the emotions the situations generate.

For example, nothing makes me see red more than bullies.

So, as a result, I have the most difficult time seeing American, Turkish or Filipino politics open-mindedly, for Trump, Erdogan and Duterte strike me as being the epitome of bullies in their behaviour.

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Above: Donald Trump, 45th US President since 20 January 2017

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Above: Recep Erdogan, 12th President of Turkey since 2014, 25th Prime Minister of Turkey (2003 – 2014)

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Above: Rodrigo Duterte, 16th President of the Philippines since 2016

These leaders and their followers can´t see, won´t see, what they are doing is wrong and truly believe that they are doing what is best and can´t comprehend, won´t comprehend, why others don´t see things as they do.

I was reminded of this last summer when we visited Lovere…..

Lovere, Italy, 4 August 2017

The Rough Guide to Italy doesn´t love Lovere very much.

“Lago d´Iseo raises your expectations:

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Descending from Clusone, the road passes through steep gorges, thick forests and stark angular mountains, at the foot of which lies the Lake.

(For a description of Clusone, please see Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre of this blog.)


As Iseo is the 5th largest of the northern lakes and the least known outside Italy, you would imagine it to be more undiscovered than the others but the apartment blocks, harbourside boutiques, ice cream parlours and heavy industry of Lovere put paid to any notions that Lago Iseo might have escaped either tourist exploitation or industrialization.”

Lonely Planet Italy isn´t complimentary either.

“Lago d´Iseo is the least known and least attractive of the lakes.

Shut in by mountains, Iseo is scarred by industry and a string of tunnels at its northeastern end around Castro and Lovere, although driving through the blasted rock face at the water´s edge can be enjoyable.” 

And herein lies the problem.

Because so many English-speaking readers trust and faithfully follow the advice given by these two popular travel guides, they fail to discover that there might be more to Heaven and Earth than is expounded by these two guidebooks´ philosophies.

Automobiles are quick, efficient and quite liberating from the quirks of predetermined routes and set schedules, but much is missed if the destination is deemed superior to the possible discoveries that can be made if one stops and explores along the journey.

My wife and I, like many other automobile travellers, were restricted by time and money to how often we could leisurely stop and explore.

And that is a shame.

For had we taken the train from Bergamo to the harbour town of Iseo then a ferry from there to Lovere, we might have discovered a town far more deserving of compliments than the aforementioned guidebooks give it credit.

Lovere is much like Lecco in that it is considered far more unremarkable than it truly is.

(For Lecco, see Canada Slim and the Unremarkable Town of this blog.)

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At first glance of Lovere a person might be forgiven for thinking that somehow the road had led the traveller somehow back to Switzerland, for the houses in this town (of 5,000 residents) have overhanging wooden roofs, typical of Switzerland, yet united with the heavy stone arcades of Italy.

Lovere faces the Lago Iseo and is held in the warm embrace of a semi-circle of mountains behind.

The Tourism Council of the Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani includes Lovere as one of the I Borghi piu belli d´Italia, one of the small Italian towns of artistic and historical interest and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

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Being part of the crossroads of culture and conflict that this region has been for centuries, Lovere has seen different peoples struggle to possess it: the Celts, Romans, Lombards, Franks, the monks of the Marmoutier Abbey (Tours, France), the Bishops of Bergamo, the Republic of Venice, the Napoleonic French, the Austrians and finally Italians.

There are a few sights in town worthy of a look and a linger of a few hours: the Church of Santa Maria in Valvendra with works by Cavagna, Carpinoni and Marone; the Palazzo Tadini which is both historic palace and art gallery, with many beautiful paintings and magnificent marble sculptures, along with terracotta, porcelain, antique armaments, furniture and zoological collections; the Church of San Giorgio with Cavagana´s Last Supper and Palma the Younger´s Trinity with the Virgin; the Clarissan monastery of Santa Chiara; the frescoes of the Oratorio San Martino; the ancient fortifications of Il Castelliere Gallico.

Above: Basilica Santa Maria in Valvendia, Lovere

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Above: Palazzo Tadini, Lovere

Above: Church of San Giorgio, Lovere

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Above: Convent of Santa Chiara, Lovere

Above: Church of San Martino, Lovere

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Above: Fortifications of Castelliere Gallico, Lovere

This town is truly deserving of mention and preservation.

Yes, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, there is industry here in Lovere, for the town possesses a metallurgic plant, Lucchini, which employs about 1,300 people and specializes in the manufacture of railroad wheels and axles.

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But this town is more than industry and churches and it has produced or adopted a few folks worthy of mention:

The English aristocrat, letter writer and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) resided in Lovere for ten years.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu (1689 – 1762)

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Medicine recipient Camillo Golgi studied in Lovere´s Liceo Classico.

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Above: Camillo Golgi (1843 – 1926)

(Golgi was known for his work on the central nervous system and his discovery of a staining technique called black reaction or Golgi´s method, used to visualize nerve tissue under light microscopes.)

The all-time leader in victories in motorcycle Grand Prix history, Giacomo Agostini was born in Lovere in 1942.

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Above: Giacomo Agostini

Leading cinema critic and author Enrico Ghezzi was born in Lovere in 1952.

Above: Enrico Ghezzi

And while these abovementioned four have world recognition (at least in their day), Italians and the locals of Lovere also won´t forget that the town has also produced Santa Vincenza Gerosa, Santa Bartolomea Capitanio, acrobatic pilot Mario Stoppani, as well as Italian liberators, athletes and politicians.

Of the more famous four the person that captures my imagination the most is the Lady Montagu.

The Lady Mary Pierrepont Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762) is today chiefly remembered for her letters from travels to the Ottoman Empire as wife to the British Ambassador, which have been described as “the very fine example of a secular work by a woman about the Muslim Orient”.

Aside from her writing, Lady Mary is known for introducing and advocating for smallpox inoculation in Britain after her return from Turkey.

Her writings address and challenge the hindering contemporary social attitudes towards women and their intellectual and social growth.

Mary began her education in her father´s home and to supplement the instruction of a despised governess, Mary used the library in Thoresbury Hall to “steal” her education, teaching herself Latin, a language reserved for men at the time.

By 1705, at the age of 14, Mary had written two albums filled with poetry, a brief epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents), and a romance modelled after Aphra Behn´s Voyage to the Isle of Love (1684).

By 1710, Mary had two possible suitors to choose from: Edward Wortley Montagu (1678 – 1761) and Clotworthy Skeffington.

May corresponded with Edward, but Mary´s father rejected Edward as a prospect pressuring her to marry Skeffington.

In order to avoid marriage to Skeffington, Mary and Edward eloped in 1712.

The early years of Mary´s married life were spent in the countryside.

She had a son, Edward Jr., on 16 May 1713.

On 1 July 1713, Mary´s brother died of smallpox, leaving behind two small children for Mary and Edward Sr. to raise.

On 13 October 1714, Edward Sr. accepted the post of Junior Commissioner of the Treasury.

When Mary joined him in London, her wit and beauty soon made her a prominent figure at court.

Her famous beauty was marred by a bout with smallpox in 1715.

In 1716, Edward Sr. was appointed Ambassador to Istanbul, where they remained until 1718.

After unsuccessful negotiations between Austria and the Ottoman Empire, the Montagus set sail for England via the Mediterranean, finally reaching London on 2 October 1718.

The story of this voyage and of her observations of Eastern life is told in her Letters from Turkey, a series of lively letters full of graphic descriptions.

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Above: Flag of Turkey

Letters is often credited as being an inspiration for subsequent female travellers/writers.

During her visit Mary was sincerely charmed by the beauty and hospitality of the Ottoman women she encountered and she recorded her experiences in a Turkish bath.

She recorded a particularly amusing incident in which a group of Turkish women at a bath in Sofia, horrified by the sight of the corset she was wearing, exclaimed that “the husbands in England were much worse than in the East, for they tied up their wives in little boxes, for the shape of their bodies”.

Mary wrote about misconceptions previous travellers, specifically male travellers, had recorded about the religion, traditions and the treatment of women in the Ottoman Empire.

Mary´s gender and class status provided her with access to female spaces that were closed off to males.

Her personal interactions wth Ottoman women enabled her to provide, in her view, a more accurate account of Turkish women, their dress, habits, traditions, limitations and liberties, at times irrefutably more a critique of the West than a praise of the East.

Above: Lady Mary Montagu in Turkish dress

Mary returned to the West with knowledge of the Ottoman practice of inoculation against smallpox.

In the Ottoman Empire, Mary visited the women in their segregated zenanas, making friends and learning about Turkish customs.

There she witnessed the practice of inoculation and eager to spare her children, she had Edward Jr. vaccinated.

On her return to London, Mary enthusiastically promoted the procedure, but encountered a great deal of resistance from the medical establishment, because vaccination was an Eastern custom.

In April 1721, when a smallpox epidemic struck England, Mary had her daughter inoculated and published the event.

She persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment.

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Above: Caroline of Ansbach (1683 – 1737), Queen of England (1727 – 1737)

In August 1721, seven prisoners at Newgate Prison awaiting execution were offered the chance to undergo vaccination instead of execution.

All seven survived and were released.

After returning to England, Mary took less interest in court compared to her earlier days.

Instead she was more focused on the upbringing of her children, reading, writing and editing her travel letters – which she then chose not to publish.

In 1736, Mary met and fell in love with Count Francesco Algarotti.

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Above: Francesco Algarotti (1712 – 1764)

She wrote many letters to Algarotti in English and French after his departure in September 1736.

In July 1739, Mary departed England “for health reasons” declaring her intentions to winter in the south of France.

In reality, Mary left to visit and live with Algarotti in Venice.

Their relationship ended in 1741, but Mary stayed abroad and travelled extensively.

She would finally settle in Avignon and then later Lovere.

After August 1756, she resided in Venice and resumed her relationship with Algarotti.

Mary received news of her husband Edward´s death in 1761 and left Venice for England.

En route to London, she handed her Letters from Turkey to Benjamin Sowden of Rotterdam, for safekeeping “to be disposed of as he thinks proper”.

Mary´s Letters from Turkey was only one set of memoirs written by Europeans who had been to the Ottoman Empire:

Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq (1522 – 1592) was a diplomat in the Holy Roman Empire sent to the Ottoman Empire to discuss the disputed territory of Transylvania.

Above: Ogier de Busbecq

Upon returning to his country Busbecq published the letters he had written to his colleague Nicholas Michault under the title Turkish Epistles.

Busbecq is also known for his introduction of the tulip from Turkey to Europe.

Above: Tulip cultivation, Netherlands

Kelemen Mikes (1690 – 1761) was a Hungarian essayist, noted for his rebellious activities against the Habsburg Monarchy.

Above: Kelemen Mikes

Although backed by the Ottoman Empire, Hungarian rebels were defeated and Mikes had to choose a life in exile.

After 1715, Mikes spent the rest of his life in Tekirdag (near Istanbul).

His work is known as Letters from Turkey.

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800 – 1891) was an officer in the Prussian army.

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Above: Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

He spent four years in the Ottoman Empire as a military advisor between 1835 and 1839.

Upon returning to Germany, Moltke published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey (1835 – 1839).

As I ponder my visit to Lovere and think of how necessary and important the Lady Montagu observations about Turkey were, I am left with two distinct impressions:

First, Lady Mary saw what others did not see.

She viewed Turkey through her own perspective, inspiring generations of writers and travellers to express themselves in their own unique fashion.

Second, Lady Mary saw something about Lovere, a town possibly as ignored in her day as it is ignored in these modern times, that inspired her to remain until the siren call of love compelled her return to Venice and an old flame.

All of which reminds me that I, in my own humble way, have my own unique perspective on places that guidebooks ignore and that people might be inspired to visit.

And, as well, perhaps my observations about places and politics that are often misunderstood or ignored might encourage others to advocate positive changes to both our perspectives on these places and a rallying call to empathise with people rather than judging them for the inadequate governments that suppress them.

So, if I have any New Year´s resolutions, it would be to continue reading, travelling and writing about places both near and far.

Who knows what ripples my wee pebbles can cause?

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Sources: Wikipedia / Google / The Rough Guide to Italy / Lonely Planet Italy








Canada Slim and the Lamp Ladies

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 30 December 2017

In this season of goodwill and gratitude for all the blessings we enjoy, those who are healthy should especially be thankful, for we live in an age when life expectancy is higher because mankind has developed medicines and methods to extend life and restore health.

Granted there is still much significant progress needed, for far too many people still fall victim to the scourges of cancer and strokes.

There is still much we do not understand about diseases like Parkinson´s, AIDS and far too many others to comprehensively list here.

Even the common cold with its endless variety of mutations remains unsolvable and must simply be accepted as one of the countless burdens we must endure in life.

What is significant about today when compared with yesteryear is that common injuries are less likely to be fatal.

As well through the contributions of thoughtful compassionate innovators, our attitudes towards the care of the injured and ailing have improved.

Here in Switzerland and back in my homeland of Canada I have been hospitalized due to injuries caused by accidents: a fall from a tree (shattered shoulder), an axe slip (shattered foot), and a fall on a staircase (shattered wrist).

And though I also have medical conditions of anemia and celiac, neither these conditions nor the accidents I have had led to risks of fatality.

For prompt and compassionate medical attention provided to me ensured that I still live a functional, mostly painless, and happy healthy existence.

For the Christian West, Christmas is the season to show thanksgiving to God for sending His Son Jesus Christ to save our immortal souls, we also should not forget the human instruments of change that have assisted mankind to save our mortal flesh.

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I married a doctor, and, even though she is a children´s physician, knowing her has given me an appreciation of just how difficult a profession medicine really is at all levels of medical treatment.

From the surgeon whose precision must be matched with efficiency, to the specialist doctor whose diagnosis must be accurately matched with the most likely cause of the patient´s symptoms, to the technicians who operate machinery that can reveal the interior of a patient´s body, to the family doctor who must know when to send a patient to a specialist and when to trust his/her own treatment, to the pharmacist that must know what medicines do and how to administer them, to the administrator who must balance the needs of patients with the cost of maintaining those needs, to the cleaning staff who ensure that the health care environment is as sterile as humanly possible, to the therapist who teaches the patient how to heal him/herself, to the nurse who monitors and comforts the bedbound sick person unable to fend for him/herself…..

The world of health care is a complex and complicated system demanding dedicated people and a neverending desire to improve itself.

A visit to a London museum two months ago has made me consider how grateful I am that an Englishwoman had the courage to be compassionate, Christian, and transformed the world for the better.

London, England, 24 October 2017

As mentioned in great detail in my blogpost Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar my wife and I visited Westminster Abbey, that necrophiliac fetish house for the Establishment.


And folks whether or not they were avowed antiestablishment found themselves commemorated here.

The poet Shelley, despite wishing to be known as an anarchist artist and was buried in Rome, is memorialised here in Poets´ Corner, across from Viscount Castlereagh, a man Shelley loathed.

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Above: Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

“I met Murder on the way.

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Above: Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh (1769 – 1822)

He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Before leaving the Abbey, we briefly visited the Undercroft Museum with its death-worshipping collection of royal funeral effigies.

Until the Middle Ages, British monarchs were traditionally embalmed and left to lie in state for a set period of time.

Eventually, the corpse was substituted for a wooden figure of the deceased, fully dressed with clothes from the Great Wardrobe and displayed on top of the funeral carriage for the final journey.

As the clothes were expected to fit the effegy perfectly, the likenesses found in the Undercroft are probably fairly accurate.

Edward III´s face has a strange leer, a recreation of the stroke he suffered in his final years.

Above: Westminster Abbey effigy of Edward III (1312 – 1377)

His eyebrows came from a plucked dog.

Several soldiers are known as the Ragged Regiment due to their decrepit decay.

Frances, the Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, holds what may be the world´s oldest stuffed bird, an African Grey parrot that died in 1702.

Above: Frances Teresa Stewart (1647 – 1702)

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that Frances was the greatest beauty he had ever seen.

Sadly she was disfigured by smallpox in 1668.

Sadly her final fate no different than that of her parrot.

Leaving the Abbey we see the Methodist Central Hall, an inadequate and unnecessary replacement to the building that once stood here.

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On this site once stood the Royal Aquarium and Winter Garden, opened in 1876, a grand Victorian entertainment venue.


It housed palm trees, restaurants, an art gallery, an orchestra, a skating rink, the Imperial Theatre, smoking and reading rooms.

A variety of sea creatures were displayed here, but the Aquarium was often plagued by frequent plumbing problems, so the place became better known for the exciting performances staged here than for the fish.

Come one, come all.

See William Leonard Hunt, aka the Great Farini, the world renowned Canadian showman and tightrope walker!

Above: William Hunt, aka the Great Farini (1838 – 1929)

Gasp in awe at 14-year-old Rossa Matilda Richter, aka Zazel, the first ever human cannonball, as she (barely 5 feet tall and 64 lbs heavy) is launched through the air flying 30 feet or more!

Above: Rossa Richter, aka Zazel (1863 – 1929)

Protests were launched over the danger Zazel faced and for a while the venue was in danger of losing its license but crowds kept coming to see the performances.

By the 1890s the Aquarium´s reputation became disreputable and it became known as a place where ladies of poor character went in search of male companions.

The Great Farini and Zazel were one thing, but an Aquarium of ill repute was too much for Victorian propriety to accept.

The Aquarium closed in 1899 and was demolished four years later.

In 1905 construction began on the Hall for Methodists, Christianity´s least entertaining sect.

We headed towards the Thames and followed Millbank Road to a place which suffered the opposite fate of the Aquarium.

While the Aquarium lost its aura of entertainment and was replaced by a stodgy religious institute, opposite the Tate Britain Museum is an almost invisible plaque upon an unremarkable bollard that tells the reader that where the entertaining Tate stands once stood Millbank Prison.

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Above: Tate Britain

Millbank was built to serve as the National Petientiary and was used as a holding facility for convicts due for transportation to Australia.

“Near this site stood Millbank Prison which was opened in 1816 and closed in 1890.

This buttress stood at the head of the river steps from which, until 1867, prisoners sentenced to transportation embarked on their journey to Australia.”

Novelist Henry James called Millbank “a worse act of violence than any it was erected to punish”.

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Above: Henry James (1843 – 1916)

The phrase “down under” is said to be derived from a nearby tunnel through which the convicts were walked in chains down to the river.

A section of the tunnel survives in the cellars of the nearby Morpeth Arms, a pub built to seve the prison warden and said to be haunted by the ghost of a former inmate.

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Depending on their crime, prisoners could be given the choice of receiving a five-to-ten-year jail sentence instead of exile.

Among the many to be sent to Australia – and perhaps the unluckiest of them all – was Isaac Solomon, a convicted pickpocket and the inspiration for the character Fagin in Charles Dickens´ Oliver Twist.

Above: Isaac “Ikey” Solomon (1727 – 1850)

In 1827 Solomon managed to escape while being taken to Newgate Prison.

He fled England to New York, but then travelled on to Tasmania when he discovered his wife had been transported there for crimes of her own.

Upon arrival in Tasmania, Solomon was rearrested, shipped home to London, retried, reconvicted and sentenced to exiled imprisonment for 14 years….back to Tasmania.

We made our weaving way to Pimlico Tube Station, a unique station in that it doesn´t  have an interchange with another Underground or National Rail Line.

We rode the rails until Waterloo, the last station to provide steam-powered services and the busiest railway station in London / the 91st busiest in the world / the busiest transport hub in Europe.

I had once taken the Eurostar from Waterloo Station to Paris as one of the 81,891,738 travellers during the 13 years (1994 – 2007) Eurostar operated from here, before it began service from St. Pancras.

The clock at Waterloo has been cited as one of the most romantic spots for a couple to meet, and has appeared in TV (Only Fools and Horses) and in the film Man Up.

Waterloo Station has appeared in literature (Three Men in a Boat, The Wrong Box, The War of the Worlds), films (Terminus, Rush Hour, Sliding Doors), theatre (The Railway Children), music (the Kinks song “Waterloo Sunset”) and paintings.

Our destination – typical of travelling with a doctor – a hospital, St. Thomas Hospital, noteworthy for a male serial killer and a lady humanitarian.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish Canadian serial killer who claimed victims from the United States, England, Canada and Scotland.


Above: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City.

He attended Montreal´s McGill University and then did his post-graduate training at St. Thomas.

In 1878 Cream obtained qualifications in Edinburgh.

He then returned to Canada to practice in London, Ontario.

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was having an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream´s office, pregnant and poisoned.

Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman, but after being accused of both murder and blackmail, Cream fled to the United States.

Cream established a medical practice not far from the red light district of Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes.

In December 1880 another patient died after treatment by Cream, followed by another in April 1881.

On 14 July 1881, Danial Stott died of poisoning, after Cream supplied him a remedy for epilepsy.

Cream was arrested, along with Stott´s wife.

Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet prison.

Cream was released in 1891, after Governor Joseph Fifer commuted his sentence.

Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England.

He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road.

At that time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.

On 13 October 1891, Nellie Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute accepted a drink from Cream.

She died three days later.

On 20 October, Cream met 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover.

She died the next morning.

On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Louise Harvey.

Above: Louise Harvey

On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell. 18, and talked his way into their flat.

Cream put styrchine in their bottles of Guinness.


Both women died in agony.

On 3 June 1892, Cream was arrested and was later sentenced to death.

On 15 November, Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison and his body buried in an unmarked grave within the prison walls.

Cream´s name does not appear in later McGill graduate directories.

No mention of those who mourned Cream´s victims is made either.

Ladies of the night lost in the shadows of Lambeth lamplight, fallen and forgotten.

Another medical professional is equally remembered at a site as inconspicuous as a prison burial ground: a parking lot.

On the south side of Westminster Bridge, a series of red brick Victorian blocks and modern white additions make up St. Thomas´s Hospital, founded in the 12th century.

At the Hospital´s northeastern corner, off Lambeth Palace Road, is a car park.

A hospital car park isn´t the most obvious location for a museum, but that where one finds the homage to Florence Nightingale, the genteel rebel who invented the nursing profession.

Born on 12 May 1820 at the Villa Colombaia, three decades before Cream, Florence Nightingale was named after the city of her birth, Florence, Italy.

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Above: Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910)

“There is nothing like the tyranny of a good English family.”

Florence was born into a rich, well-connected family though quite liberal in their attitudes.

Their circle of friends and acquaintances included the author Elizabeth Gaskell, the scientist Charles Darwin and the reform politician the Earl of Shaftesbury.

(For the story of the Earl of Shaftesbury, please see Canada Slim and the Outcast of this blog.)

Her maternal grandfather William Smith campaigned to abolish slavery and Florence´s father William Nightingale educated both her and her sister Frances Parthenope (after her birthplace of Parthenope, Naples) in French, Latin, German, mathematics, philosophy and science, then considered strictly male pursuits,

The Nightingales loved to travel – her parents´ honeymoon lasted so long that they produced two daughters before they returned home.

Growing up Florence visited many European cities.

She travelled to France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She enjoyed visiting museums, dancing at balls, and going to concerts, confessing at one point that she was “music mad”.

In 1838, her father took the family on a tour of Europe where they were introduced to the English-born Parisian heiress Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded.

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Above: Mary Clarke (1793 – 1883)

Clarke was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone”.

Clarke´s behaviour was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had no respect for upper class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential.

She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, she would choose the galleys.

Clarke generally rejected female company and spent her time with male intellectuals.

However Clarke made an exception in the case of Florence.

They were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference.

Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence did not obtain from her mother Fanny Smith.

Florence underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at her family home of Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.

Above: Embley Park

Devout and scholarly, Florence was not expected to do anything much apart from marry and procreate.

As a young woman, Florence was attractive, slender and graceful.

She had rich brown hair, a delicate complexion and a prominent, almost Roman, nose.

She was slim until middle age and tall for a Victorian woman, about 5´8″ or 172 cm in height.

While her demeanour was often severe, she was very charming and possessed a radiant smile.

Florence received several marriage proposals.

She was certainly not supposed to work, but Florence´s ambition was to become a nurse.

Her parents were aghast.

In the Victorian Age, nurses were known for being devious, dishonest and drunken.

Hospitals were filthy, dangerous places exclusively for the poor.

The rich were treated in the privacy of their own homes.

In her youth Florence was respectful of her family´s opposition to her working as a nurse, but nonetheless she announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.

Despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status to become a wife and mother.

“I craved for something worth doing instead of frittering time away on useless trifles.”

Florence came closest to accepting the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship she rejected him in 1849, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.


Above: Richard Monckton Milnes (1809 – 1885)

Whether Milnes´ devotion to the writing of Marquis de Sade and his extensive collection of erotica had something to do with Florence´s decision remains unstated.

She knew that marriage would mean swapping one cage for another and felt that God meant her to remain single.

“Marriage had never tempted me. 

I hated the idea of being tied forever to a life of Society, and such a marriage could I have.” 

In the essay Cassandra, Florence wrote about the limited choices facing women like her and raged against the way women were unable to put their energy and intelligence to better use.

Florence´s parents allowed her to visit Rome in 1847 with family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge, hopefully to take her mind off nursing.

In Rome, Florence met the young politician, former Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert on his honeymoon with his wife Elizabeth.

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Above: Sidney Herbert (1810 – 1861)

Together Florence and Elizabeth visited convents and hospitals run by Catholic nuns.

Sidney and Florence became lifelong close friends and the Herberts would later be insturmental in facilitating Florence´s future nursing work.

Florence continued her travels with the Bracebridges as far as Greece and Egypt.

Her writings on Egypt in particular are testimony to her learning, literaray skill and philosophy of life.

Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, Florence wrote of the temples there:

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Above: The temples of Abu Simbel: the Great Temple of Ramses II (left), the Temple of Nefertari (right)

“Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering …. not a feature is correct – but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

At Thebes, Florence wrote of being “called to God”.

A week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary:

“God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for Him alone without reputation.”

During a visit to the Parthenon in Athens, Florence rescued an owl, which she called Athena.

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Above: The Parthenon

Athena always perched on Florence´s shoulder or in her pocket, with a specially designed pouch to to catch her droppings.

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Above: Athena (1850 – 1855)

Athena was a demanding creature who had to be bathed with sand daily.

When the badtempered owl died, Florence wrote:

“Poor little beastie, it was odd how much I loved you.”

Her sister Frances wrote a short story, The Life and Death of Athena, ensuring the little owl´s posthumous fame.

Rather than forget nursing as her parents hoped, Florence´s determination grew even stronger.

Later in 1850, Florence visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, near Dusseldorf, in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the poor and the sick in a hospital, orphanage and college.

Above: Kaiserswerth Clinic

She regarded the Kaiserswerth experience as a turning point in her life, where she received months of medical training which would form the basis for her later care.

Florence learned about medicines, how to dress wounds, observed amputations and cared for the sick and dying.

She had never felt happier.

“Now I know what it is to love life.”

On 22 August 1853, Florence took the post of Superintendant at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street in London, a position she held until October 1854.

When an epidemic of cholera broke out in London, Florence rushed to nurse victims in the nearby Middlesex Hospital.

Florence read about the disaster facing the British army in the autumn of 1854.

Hundreds of soldiers were sent to fight with the French and the Ottoman Turks against the Tsar´s Russian army in the Crimea were dying of disease.

The Crimean War was the first time the public could read in the newspapers about how the troops were suffering.

Above: Map of the Crimean War (Russian version)

When the news broke of the disaster in the Army, polticians were criticised.

More soldiers were dying from disease, and from cold during the winter, than from enemy action.

“In most cases the flesh and clothes were frozen together.

As for feet, the boots had to be cut off bit by bit, the flesh coming off with them.”

The wounded arrived by the boatloads at the British Army´s base hospitals at Scutari in Constantinople (today´s Istanbul).

Reporting from the front lines in the Crimea, William Howard Russell, Times journalist, blamed disorganization and a lack of supplies.

Fellow Times journalist in Constantinople, Thomas Chenery, reported that the French allowed women to nurse, unlike the British.

After the initial battles in the Crimea, the conflict centred on the besieged port of Sebastopol, where Russian and Ukranian women nursed heroically.

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Above: The Siege of Sebastopol (September 1854 – September 1855), by Franz Roubaud (1902)

Conditions in the vast hospitals were horrific.

“Must men die in agony unheeded?”, demanded the Times.

The scandal provoked a public outcry.

Sidney Herbert, once again Secretary of War, wrote to Florence asking her to lead a group of women nurses – a new and risky idea.

Florence and her team of 38 brave women volunteer nurses that she trained and 15 Catholic nuns set sail for Scutari.

Florence arrived early November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari and found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common, many of them fatal.

There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

There was a lack of food, a lack of blankets, a lack of beds.

Casualities arrived, after a long journey, dirty and starving.

“It is of appalling horror!

These poor fellows suffer with unshrinking heroism, and die or are cut up without complaint.

We are steeped up to our necks in blood.”

At Scutari the nurses had to contend with rats, lice, cockroaches and an absence of sanitation and had to cope with long hours and hard physical work.

After Florence sent a plea to the Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles.

A 19th century man wearing a jacket, trousers and waistcoat, with his hands in his pockets and a cigar in mouth, wearing a tall stovepipe top hat, standing in front of giant iron chains on a drum.

Above: Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility that had a death rate less than one tenth that of Scutari.

Florence reduced the death rate from 42% to 2% by making improvements in hygiene.

She implemented handwashing and other hygiene practices in the war hospital.

She organized the nurses and soldiers´ wives to clean shirts and sheets and the men to empty the toilets.

She bombarded Herbert with letters asking for supplies and used her own money and funds sent by the public via the Times, to buy scrubbing brushes and buckets, blankets, bedpans and operating tables.

“This morning I foraged in the purveyor´s store – a cruise I make almost daily, as the only way of getting things.  I am really cook, housekeeper, scavenger, washerwoman, general dealer and storekeeper.”

Every night she walked miles of hospital corridors where thousands of casualities lay, holding a Turkish lantern (fanoos) on her nightly rounds of the wards.

Florence would always dismiss the idea that she alone improved the Hospital.

It was a team effort.

In Britain, penny papers popularised the image of “the Lady with the Lamp” patrolling the wards.

Her work went beyond nursing care.

Florence treated the soldiers equally, whatever their rank, and also thought of their families´ welfare.

She wrote letters of condolence to relatives, sent money to widows, and answered inquiries about the missing or ill.

When the initial crisis was over, Florence also organized reading rooms.

As an alternative to alcohol, the Inkerman Café was opened, serving non-alcoholic drinks.

She set up a banking system so ordinary soldiers could send their pay home, rather than drink or gamble it away.

Stories of Florence´s devotion to the men flooded home to Britain.

One soldier wrote home of the love and gratitude for Florence felt by “hundreds of great rough soldiers”.

The men worshipped her.

During her first winter at Scutari, 4,077 soldiers died.

Ten times more soldiers died from diseases such as typhoid, typhus, cholera and dysentary than from battle wounds.

Scutari had been built on top of a huge cesspool.

With overcrowding eased, defective sewers flushed out and ventilation improved, death rates were sharply reduced.

Florence still believed that the death rates were due to poor nutrition, lack of supplies, stale air and overworking of the soldiers.

She came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

Florence believed that she needed to maintain military style discipline over her nurses.

“If a patient is cold, if a patient is feverish, if a patient is faint, if he is sick after taking food, if he has a bed-sore, it is generally the fault not of the disease but of the nursing.”

She wanted her nurses to be treated with respect by the men and doctors.

This meant no flirting with doctors or soldiers, no disobedience or drunkenness.

The first image showing Florence as “the Lady with the Lamp” appeared in the Illustrated London News early in 1855.

As the war dragged on, Florence´s work made her internationally famous.

“She is a ministering angel without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow´s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

Florence hated what she called the “buzz fuzz” of celebrity, but she knew how to use public opinion.

Fame gave her power and influence to make changes, but she knew it obscured the achievements of others and the human cost of the war.

Florence´s image appeared as pottery figurines, souvenirs and even on paper bags.

Songs and poems were written about her.

When the US poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published “Santa Philomena” in 1857, it fixed Florence´s image forever as the Lady with the Lamp.

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Above: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom

And flit from room to room.”

After contracting “Crimean fever” from infected goat´s milk, Florence suffered ill health.

After the Crimean War, Florence returned to Britain in August 1856, travelling under the name “Miss Smith” to avoid publicity.

Thin, exhausted and ill, she felt a sense of failure and grieved over the soldiers who did not return.

“My poor men lying in your Crimean graves, I stand at the altar of murdered men.

Florence devoted the rest of her life to ensure that they did not die in vain.

While Florence shrank from public appearances, she skillfully used her reputation and the authority of her name to convincethose in power of the need for health reform, starting with Queen Victoria, whom she impressed greatly when they met in Balmoral.

Photograph of Queen Victoria, 1882

Above: Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901)

For the rest of her days she would continue to suffer reoccuring bouts of fever, exhaustion, depression, loss of appetite, insomnia and severe back pain.

Unable to continue nursing, she devoted herself to health reform, founded the first training school for nurses at St. Thomas, campaigned to improve hospital conditions and championed the cause of midwives.

Often irritable, highly critical of herself and others, Florence worked on, writing hundreds of letters, gathering and analysing statistics, commenting on reports, briefing politicians and medical experts.

Prompted by the Indian mutiny of 1857, Florence began a lifelong campaign to improve the health of all Indians, not just British soldiers.

She studied the design of hospitals in Britain and across Europe.

Florence wrote Notes on Nursing to help ordinary women care for their families.

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She stressed the importance of cleanliness, warmth, fresh air, light and proper diet.

Florence wrote some 200 books, pamphlets and articles, and over 14,000 letters.

As well as nursing she wrote about religion and philosophy, sanitation and army hygiene, hospitals, statistics and India.

She wrote about her travels and the frustrations of life for educated women.

Florence changed society´s ideas about nursing.

She believed in looking after a person´s mental as well as physical wellbeing.

She stressed the importance of being sensitive to a patient´s needs and their environment to aid recovery.

She helped make nursing a respectable profession for women.

Her work proved an inspiration to many, including the founder of the Red Cross movement, Henri Dunant.

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Above: Henri Dunant (1828 – 1910)

Florence championed causes that are as just important today as they were in her day, from hospital hygiene and management, to the nursing of soldiers during war and afterwards, and healthcare for all around the world.

In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge is taken by new nurses.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday.

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The Florence Nightingale Museum doesn´t just celebrate Florence as a devout woman who single-mindedly revolutionized the healthcare industry but as well it hits the right note by putting the two years she spent tending to the wounded of the Crimean War in the context of a lifetime of tireless social campaigning, and also mentions others involved in that same health care crisis.

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Dimly lit and curiously curated with circular display cases covered in fake grass or wrapped in bandages, this small museum is packed with fascinating exhibits, from Florence´s hand-written ledgers and primitive medical instruments to pamplets with titles like How People May Live and Not Die in India.

The Museum and the neighbourhood of Lambeth are worth exploring, especially in a world too full of Dr. Creams and too few Florence Nightingales.

Perhaps if our politicians visited more museums like the Red Cross Museum in Geneva or the Florence Nightingale Museum there might less incentive to cause war ourselves or to ignore wars far removed from us, such as Yemen – “a pointless conflict (that) has caused the world´s worst humanitarian crisis”.

Perhaps if we followed role models such as Florence we might one day truly find peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Secret London: An Unusual Guide / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Florence Nightingale Museum /


Canada Slim and the Dance Macabre

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 24 December 2017

Tomorrow is Christmas and I have yet to feel that Yuletide spirit.

Part of the problem is that I never seem to see the oft-promised peace on Earth and good will towards man.

Trump and his cronies have passed a tax bill that will hurt the most vulnerable members of American society.

Flag of the United States

Indonesia is arresting gays for the crime of not being straight.

Flag of Indonesia

Above: Flag of Indonesia

The war in Yemen continues causing untold amount of disease, devastation and famine.

Flag of Yemen

Above: Flag of Yemen

Music is morbid, traumatized and defensive.

Lack of progress in holding bishops accountable for covering up sex abuse in the Church continues.

Flag of Vatican City

Above: Flag of Vatican City

Alarming cases of child malnutrition are reported in Venezuela.

Flag of Venezuela

Above: Flag of Venezuela

And these are just a few events being reported by the New York Times.

As I watched shoppers madly scramble to get Christmas gifts for their loved ones, the cynic in me wondered whether the gift giving is truly heartfelt or whether this generosity is an attempt to buy affection that had not been reciprocated the rest of the year.

Ignore friends and family all year, but hope that presents will redeem you in their eyes once again.

Above: Christmas gift-Bringers in Western Europe

As for those without friends or family….

They are invisible.

The homeless will still lack shelter, the unemployed will still lack a job, the lonely will still lack love this Christmas.

The Beatles once sang that “money can´t buy me love”, but is that true?

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Money can buy friends, love, power, prestige, respect, happiness, can´t it?

So we are taught to believe.

And perversely we will sacrifice happiness, respect, prestige, power and love in pursuit of profit.

There was once a time when we believed that we could buy ourselves a stairway to Heaven or a get out of Purgatory free card.

Above: Purgatorio by Ludovico Carracci

And yet my cynicism disappears whenever I think about life beyond the headlines and outside of administrative offices.

For even in the wealthiest of nations there still exists places where money remains simply a means to an end rather than an end itself.

Take Switzerland, for example.

Flag of Switzerland

This is truly a land where profits predominate people, but step inside a religious institution and feel the faith and love.

Hop on a local transit bus or a Postbus and see everyday people living ordinary lives.

Visit a local museum and quietly marvel at the time and attention to detail put into every exhibit whether or not the museum is frequently visited or not.

Stroll through a Christmas market, and though those who run the stalls wish to make money for their efforts, the visitors to the market seem more relaxed than they would in an ordinary place of purchase.

The Christmas market visitor strolls rather than strides, observes rather than ignores what he/she isn´t looking for, converses rather than simply communicates only what is needed to be said.

Even in our wee Starbucks in Marktgasse there are two perspectives.

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Management will bring pressure to bear on the baristas to sell, sell, sell.

But the wise barista knows that the hard sell only works a small percentage of the time, because the customers come to Starbucks to enjoy themselves in a coffeehouse.

As American a firm that this chain is, it is in old Europe.

Here folks want to sit in a Café and linger.

Above: Café Terrace at Night, Vincent van Gogh (1888)

They want to find a comfortable corner, a cozy niche, and quietly read a book, or study for their exams, or enjoy each other´s company.

Outside the winds of change toss and turn their lives, but inside a Café the visitor hopes to find an oasis of calm, a harbour of welcome.

The further removed from the day-to-day experience of a Café that management is, the less I feel connected to management.

Money is made from repeat business, the desire to return.

Repeat business is generated from the welcome the guest feels when he/she comes to my store, not from special offers or promotions.

The more management pressures staff to sell, the more pressure the customer feels from the staff that serve them.

The customer is reduced to being an entry on a balance sheet, rather than being the royal entity of the moment.

We are pressured by management if there is a line-up of people forced to wait for service to suddenly rush through our processes and yet somehow still sell, sell, sell the same amounts that normally require more effort on the part of the salesperson.

Yet compassionate friendly attention paid to each individual customer, with an occasional reassuring word to the folks waiting to be served that they are also important and that their patience is appreciated, goes further to keeping customers happy than a quick stressful promptness and dismissiveness to “keep the line moving” ever does.

Management only partially gets this.

The higher up the ladder, the less management understands this.

Management´s destination is the coffers of the company.

But the destination is only possible if the journey is successfully accomplished, if the customer looks forward to coming back to a place where they truly felt welcome.

This malaise felt in our wee Starbucks is a microcosm of what life is in Switzerland.

The Swiss, as a general rule, seem so focused on making money that they have forgotten that money may buy things, but things only distract – they don´t diminish unhappiness felt in a life offering nothing more than a fuller bank account.

The richer the country, the more miserable the people seem to be.

Yet beyond the banks and past the profits is a land of amazing vistas and panoramas so breathtakingly beautiful as to inspire poetry from a pauper and music from the mute.

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It is easy to forget that outside the pellmell of the pursuit of profit that life, wonderful life, is waiting to be discovered in all of its subtle and savoury awesomeness.

Money cannot buy happiness nor guarantee salvation.

This message came crystal clear to my wife and I in an unexpected corner of the richest part of Italy this summer…..

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Above: Flag of Italy


Clusone, Italy, 4 August 2017

Lombardy is Italy´s richest and most developed region.

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Above: Lombardy (in red)

It has always been and still remains a commercial crossroads.

It has been coveted and controlled by the French and the Austrians and takes its name from the Lombards who invaded the region and took it from the Romans.

As a border region, accessible through numerous mountainous passes, Lombardy has always been vulnerable to invasion.

It has long been viewed by northern Europeans as the true capital of Italy.

Emperors from Charlemagne to Napoleon came to Lombardy to be crowned and northern European business magnates take Milan more seriously than Rome (much like they take New York more seriously than Washington, Toronto more seriously than Ottawa, or Zürich more seriously than Bern).

Lombardy´s landscape has paid the price for economic success.

Industry chokes the air, sprawls across the plains and spreads tentacles in all directions that it can.

Nonetheless the casual traveller can still find oases of calm and harbingers of welcome.

The upper reaches of Lombardy´s valleys remain unspoilt.

Even the most sophisticated and ultra modern towns and cities retain their serendipitous medieval cores boasting amazing art and architecture.

The stunning scenery and lush landscapes of Lombardian lakes subtly seduce the unsuspecting visitor.

Much like the Swiss, the Lombardians don´t have much time for life, being too busy making a living.

Milan is a workaholic factory of fashion and innovation, forever focused on the future, impatient with the present, dismissive of the past.

Clockwise from top: Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, CityLife project, Arch of Peace, and Milan Cathedral

Above: Pictures of Milan (clockwise from top): Porta Nuova, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, La Scala, Sforza Castle, City Life Project, Arch of Peace, Milan Cathedral

The provincial towns are filled with folks focused on security and luxury and privilege.

These urban and urbane northern Italians are dismissive of the south and for them Rome is nothing more than a tragic complexity of errors.

The late 20th century has even seen the rise of a separatist political Party, the Lega Nord, demanding independence from Rome with rheotric suggesting that the North sustains the inefficient lazy South.

Lega Nord Salvini.png

Industrial development has done a dastardly thorough job of ruining the landscape around Bergamo, but if the traveller pushes up the valleys things vastly improve.

To the northwest, the Val Brembana is fringed by a garland of mountains that have borne the tread of generations of caravans of mules bringing minerals from the rocks to the cities of the plains.

Here one can take the waters of San Pellegrino Terme, Lombardy´s most fashionable spa since the start of the 20th century, sleep in a grand hotel and play games inside the casino.

Above: Grand Hotel, San Pellegrino Terme

To the northeast, through and past the Val Cavellina ruined by small factories and characterless housing, the Valle Seriana is also overly developed and overcrowded with apartments appropriating forests and rivers reduced to streams by hydroelectric eyesores.

But in the upper reaches of the Seriana are still untouched stretches of unspoilt pastoral and wild paradise.

Clusone is the main stop, perhaps the only stop, worth making in the entirety of the Valle Seriana.

Panorama of the town in winter

Above: Clusone in winter

It is a picturesque hilltop town well worth a wander.

This is a stroller´s town.

Visit the Church of St. Luigi, the Church of St. Anna, the Church of Paradise, the Church of St. Defendente, the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of St. Lucio and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and St. Rocco.

Above: The Church of San Defendente

Linger in the Palazzo Comunale or the Palazzo Fogaccia or the Palazzo Marinoni Barca, the Palazzo Bonicelli della Vite, or the Palazzo Carrara Spinelli Maffei.

Above: Palazzo Fogaccia

With steep curving streets and shops selling sausage and cheese, Clusone is the kind of quiet town that invites lingering, where a person is encouraged to linger for hours over lunch and coffee, a place of peaceful contemplation.

In this town where time doesn´t matter, time is nonetheless carefully calculated and measured.

The Piazza dell´ Orologio is named for the fiendishly complicated 16th century clock on the tower of the Palazzo Communale.

Above: Piazza dell´ Orologio

If you have the time and the patience, you can work out the date, the sign of the zodiac, the duration of the night and the phase of the moon from the mechanical movements of the clock.

It takes time to understand time.

Then as you take time to contemplate time, climb upwards to the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta with its Oratorio dei Disciplini (the Oratory of the Disciples) that draws visitors from all over.

Above: Oratorio dei Disciplini

There is little of interest within the walls of the church, but the two 15th century frescoes on the church exterior more than compensate the weary walker for his trek up the hill.

The frescoes were painted by Giacomo Borlone de Buschis in 1485.

The upper fresco, The Triumph of Death, concentrates on the attitude of the wealthy towards death, with three noblemen returning from the hunt, discovering an open tomb containing the worm-infested corpses of the Pope and the Emperor, surrounded by snakes, frogs and scorpions.

A huge skeleton clothed in cloak and crown, larger than life, representing triumphant Death, balances on the edge of the tomb, while other skeletons take aim at people gathered around the tomb.

Death stands on a sepulchre around which the figures of a cardinal, a bishop, a king and a philosopher are offering her gifts.

These onlookers are incorruptible figures, uninterested in the bribes being offered them.

“Everyone dies and leaves the world, those who offend God leave bitterly.”

“For the love of God, don´t have fear to come to the Dance, but joyfully come and be happy.”

The lower fresco, The Dance of Death, continues the tale of morality and mortality, contrasting the corrupt upper classes with a procession of contented commoners, each dancing his way towards death quite happily unconcerned.

I am reminded of an old song I learned back in my high school days:

“Dance, dance, whomever you may be

I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

“And I´ll lead you all whomever you may be

For I am the Lord of the Dance”, said the He.

But this is not only a place of Death, Clusone has been the birthplace of artists and athletes:

  • Domenico Carpinoni (1566 – 1658), painter
  • Cosimo Fanzago (1591 – 1678), architect / sculptor
  • Antonio Cifrondi (1656 – 1730), painter
  • Bartolomeo Nazari (1699 – 1758), painter
  • Antonio Percassi, chairman of the Percassi Holding Company
  • Attilio Rota, cyclist
  • Paolo Savoldelli, cyclist
  • Kevin Ceccon, race car driver

Domenico, Cosimo, Antonio C. and Bartolomeo are united in death, despite their accomplishments.

Antonio P., Attilio, Paolo and Kevin probably won´t live forever, regardless of what they do or don´t do.

We all do the Danse Macabre, no matter one´s station in life.

Above: The Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

Whether Pope, peasant or Emperor, King or kid, lazy or labourer, each day is a memento mori, a reminder of the fragility of our lives and of how vain and pointless are the glories of earthly life.

It is this equality in which I take comfort in.

I am destined to die one day, so I won´t have to endure living eternally while others die around me.

And, so far, man has yet to create a dystopian future where people stop aging but have clocks in their arms that determine how long they have to live.

I don´t want to know how much time remains on my life clock, for this uncertainty makes me appreciate every present moment as if it were my last.

At present, the rich cannot buy additional time, additional life.

Imagine if you can how truly horrific the scenario in the movie In Time would be if it ever became our reality instead of just simply entertaining science fiction.


A hell where time has become the universal currency, where the rich hoard time for themselves to live forever while constantly increasing the cost of living to ensure the poor die.

It is the miracle of birth that Christians celebrate this Christmas season, yet places like Clusone remind me that death, as painful as it is for those left behind to mourn the loss of the deceased, is in its own way also a miracle of sorts.

Without death, life loses its precious value.

Without death, pain is eternal and suffering endless.

Without death, a place cannot sustain a population that constantly increases without limits.

I don´t want to die, but I don´t want to live forever.

It is said by Christians that Christ came so that all who believe in Him might enjoy eternal life.

A depiction of Jesus on the cross

We fear death because we fear the nothingness of non-existence.

We tell ourselves tales, wrapped in religious impulse, that there is something somewhere somehow beyond life.

This idea of something beyond life reassures us that the inadequacies of life can somehow be recompensed in some alternate realm of being.

I for one will never discourage those from believing in what helps them cope with life and its eventual ending.

Perhaps this is what I can take away from Christmas this year….

In this celebration of new life and the promise of life eternal, let us appreciate this moment of life we are living now.

Then perhaps everyday will be a Christmas worth celebrating.


Above: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to Italy







Canada Slim and the Royal Peculiar

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 22 December 2017

This week I returned back to work after being absent at home for the past two weeks.

File:Starbucks Corporation Logo 2011.svg

It was a warm welcome with hugs and expressions of delight.

So much so that one witnessing customer commented:

“I want to work here!” 

Back home after work:

First World problems.

Ah, the problem of having too many choices!

I don´t own (and happily don´t owe) much in this world.

What I possess is an (over)abundance of books and DVDs for a man of my modest income.

If I had to estimate I would say that I probably have at least 1,000 or more DVDs.

Of these I would safely say that there are only about a dozen films that I find myself watching again and again.

For example, I recently watched for the nth time the 1974 Billy Wilder film The Front Page starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau.

Front page movie poster.jpg

Director Wilder, a newspaperman in his younger days recalled:

“A reporter was a glamourous fellow in those days, the way he wore a hat and a raincoat and a swagger, and had a camaderie with fellow reporters and with local police, always hot on the trail of tips from them and from the fringes of the underworld.”

Wilder set the movie in 1929, because the daily newspaper was no longer the dominant news medium in 1974.

(Even less so in 2017….)

The movie has reminded me of the old idea that there are basically only two types of people: those who make the News and those who follow the News.

Those who are remembered by history are those who have made history, who have made the News.

And if there is one place where a person´s legacy seems to matter is within the confines of a famous cathedral.

The decision to create a mausoleum or memorial for a person is determined by what the person accomplished in their life.

Especially for the Christian West it seems the bigger the mausoleum, the grander the grave, the more remarkable the memorial, the more attention and recognition is paid (or should be paid) to the legacy a person left behind.

The downside of this thinking is the presumption that those without a mausoleum, those lacking a memorial, those without a grave, must then be undeserving of respect, unworthy of memory, unloved and forgettable.

First World thinking and materialist obsessiveness carry on even beyond one´s life and onwards in the legacy of those who no longer live.

This kind of thinking was quite evident in our visit to London in October….


London, England, 24 October 2017

The Houses of Parliament overshadow a much older neighbour, Westminster Abbey.


Westminster Abbey has stood in London longer than any other building and embodies much of the history of England.

It was so named to differentiate it from the “east minster“, St. Paul´s Cathedral.

It is the finest Gothic building in London, the most important religious building in England, with the highest nave of any English church.

Over the centuries Westminster Abbey has meant many things to many people.

The Abbey has been the venue for every Coronation since the time of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087)

It has been the site of every royal burial for some 500 years between the reigns of Henry III (1207 – 1272) and George II (1683 – 1760).

Scores of the nation´s most famous citizens are honoured here and the interior of the Abbey is cluttered with hundreds of monuments, reliefs and statues.

With over 3,300 people buried beneath the Abbey´s flagstones and countless others commemorated here, Westminster is, in essence, a massive mausoleum, more tourist attraction than house of God.

Would a modern day Jesus´ visit to this temple result in His repeating:

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, Washington version, by El Greco

Above: Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (El Greco)

“Make not My Father´s house a house of merchandise.” ?

Would the Black Adder of the first BBC series wherein his father makes him the Archbishop of Canterbury (Episode 3)(transplanted to today) gleefully rub his hands together at all the modern wealth to be generated by the faithful and the curious?

"Prince Edmund, Baldrick and Lord Percy in purplse clerical cassocks"

Above: Tony Robinson / Baldrick (left), Tim McInnery / Lord Percy Percy (middle), and Rowan Atkinson / The Black Adder / Prince Edmund / The Archbishop of Canterbury

“Holy Moses! Take a look!

Flesh decayed in every nook!

Some rare bits of brain lie here,

Mortal loads of beef and beer.”

(Amanda McKittrick Ros, “Visiting Westminster Abbey”)

No one knows exactly when the first church was built on this site, but it was well over a thousand years ago.

At its genesis, this area was a swampy and inhospitable place on the outskirts of London.

The church stood on an island called Thorney Island, surrounded by tributaries of the River Thames.

In 960, Dunstan, the Bishop of London, brought 12 Benedictine monks from Glastonbury to found a monastery at Westminster.

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Above: Dunstan (909 – 988)

One hundred years later King Edward the Confessor founded his church on the site.

Edward the Confessor.jpg

Above: Edward the Confessor of England (1003 – 1066), King (1042 – 1066)

Edward was driven from England by the Danes.

During his exile in Normandy, Edward vowed that if his kingdom was restored to him, he would make a pilgrimage to Rome.

When Edward did eventually reclaim his throne in 1042, there was so much unrest in the kingdom that he was advised not to make the perilous journey in case a coup occurred while he was away.

The Pope absolved Edward of his vow on condition that he raise or restore a church in honour of St. Peter.

Edward´s Abbey was consecrated on 28 December 1065, but the King was too ill to attend.

He died a few days later and was buried before the high altar.

The Bayeux Tapestry depicts Edward´s body being carried into the Abbey for burial.

After Edward´s death his reputation as a holy man grew.

Miracles were said to have occurred at his tomb.

In 1161, Edward was made a saint.

King Henry III held the Confessor in such reverance that he resolved to build a new shrine for Edward in a yet more glorious church.

Manuscript picture of Henry III's coronation

Above: Henry III of England (1207 – 1272), King (1216 – 1272)

The new church was consecrated on 13 October 1269.

In 1539, England´s monastries faced a crisis.

Henry VIII had fallen out with the Pope because the Pope refused to annul the King´s marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.

Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Henry VIII - Google Art Project.jpg

Above: Henry VIII of England (1491 – 1547), King (1509 – 1547)

Henry declared himself supreme head of the Church of England.

In 1540, Henry dissolved the monasteries and seized their assets.

Westminster Abbey fared better than most religious houses, because of its royal connections, so instead of being stripped and aband0ned it was refounded as a cathedral, with a Bishop and a Dean.

In 1553 Queen Mary succeeded Henry´s son, Edward VI, and Roman Catholicism became once more the approved religion.

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Above: Mary I of England (1516 – 1558), Queen (1553 – 1558)

Mary made the Abbey a monastery again and the monks returned.

Her successor, Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne just five years later, in 1558, reversed Mary´s changes and refounded the Abbey yet again, this time with a Dean and a Chapter.

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Above: Elizabeth I of England (1533 – 1603), Queen (1553 – 1603)

The Dean was answerable to no one but herself as sovereign, and it is in this form, not subject to the jurisdiction of a Bishop, as are most churches, but as a special church under the Queen – an institution known as a Royal Peculiar.

During the English Civil War, which culminated in the execution of Charles I and the establishment in 1649 of Oliver Cromwell´s Commonwealth, the Abbey was damaged when Puritans smashed altars, destroyed religious images and the organ, and seized the crown jewels.

Oliver Cromwell by Samuel Cooper.jpg

Above: Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658), Lord Protector (1553 – 1558)

The Puritans were keen to rid the Abbey of all symbols of religious “superstition”.

Although the Abbey escaped wanton destruction better than many churches, it still bears the scars to this day.

The Abbey faced new peril during the Second World War.

Westminster miraculously survived, although bombs destroyed parts of it.

Walk with me through the Abbey.

Edward the Confessor´s church was the first in England to be built in the form of a cross, with the North and South Transepts forming its arms.

Most visitors, as did my wife and I, enter the Abbey via the North Transept.

The first impression one gets is of the soaring height of the vaulting.

At 102 feet, it is the highest in Britain.

The rose window above the entrance dates from 1722 and depicts the Apostles, excluding Judas Iscariot.

The rose window in the opposite transept depicts a variety of religious and other figures.

The North Transept is also known as the Statesmen´s Aisle, because it is littered with overblown monuments to long-forgotten empire builders and 19th century politicians, including Prime Ministers Viscount Palmerston (1784 – 1865), Robert Peel (1788 – 1850), Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881) and William Gladstone (1809 – 1898) who are buried nearby.

Portrait of William Gladstone.jpg

Above: William Gladstone (1809 – 1898), UK Prime Minister (1868 – 1874 / 1880 – 1885 / 1886 / 1892 – 1894

Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder (1708 – 1778) is featured in a 30-foot memorial, buried alongside his son Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), who became Prime Minister at the age of  just 24 and whose monument is over the Abbey´s west door.

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Above: William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806), Prime Minister (1783 – 1806)

The North Transept leads down to the crossing – the centre of the church.

To the west is the Quire – an intimate space forming essentially a church within a church.

This was where the monks worshipped and this is where the Choir sits for the eight regular Choral Services (Matins, Holy Communion (4x), Eucharist, Evensong and Evening Service) each week.

The Choir consists of 12 men, known as Lay Vicars, and 24 boys, who come from the Abbey´s own choir School, now the only school in England exclusively for the education of choristers.

In the Middle Ages the Quire was the scene of a horrible murder.

In those days criminals could seek sanctuary in the Abbey.

Once they were within the walls, the law could not reach them.

But in 1378 fifty of the King´s men, ignoring the right of sanctuary, chased a prisoner into the Quire.

One of the soldiers “clove his head to the very brains” and also killed a monk who tried to rescue the poor man.

From the Statesmen´s Aisle, go straight to the central Sanctuary, site of the royal coronations.

Look down at the floor.

This precious work of art is the 13th century (1268) Italian floor mosaic known as the Cosmati Pavement, which consists of about 80,000 pieces of red and green porphyry, glass and onyx set into marble.

Bildergebnis für cosmati pavement

The swirling patterns of the universe were designed to encourage the monks in their contemplation.

Look for the inscription in brass letters, which foretells when the universe will end – 19,683 years after the Creation.

On the north side of the Sanctuary is an important group of medieval tombs.

Nearest the steps is the tomb of Countess Aveline of Lancaster.

In 1269, aged just 12, she was married to Edmund Crouchback, the youngest son of Henry III, in the Abbey´s first royal wedding.

Above: Royal seal of Edmund Crouchback (1245 – 1296)

Aveline lived only five more years and died in 1274.

Nearest the altar screen is the tomb of her husband, who outlived his child bride by 22 years, dying in 1296.

Between husband and wife is the tomb of Edmund´s cousin Earl Aymer de Valence of Pembroke, who died in 1324.

These three tombs were originally beautifully coloured and decorated, so that in the candlelight they shimmered with an extraordinary luminescence now lost in time.

The elaborate gilded screen behind the High Altar once protected Henry III´s original altarpiece (“retable”), dating from 1270, the oldest oil painting in Britain and now on display in the Abbey Museum.

The Feeding of the 5000 is an exceptionally important work, and though the centuries have not treated it kindly, what remains gives a tantalising insight into what it must once have been like.

Behind the Altar is St. Edward the Confessor´s Chapel, the spiritual heart of the Abbey.

It was here in 2010 that Pope Benedict XVI, making the first ever visit of a Pope to the Abbey, prayed alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Benedykt XVI (2010-10-17) 4.jpg

Above: Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), Pope Benedict XVI (2005 – 2013)

Around the shrine in the centre, which contains Edward´s body, lie five kings and four queens.

Here is the double tomb of King Richard II (1367 – 1399) and his Queen, Anne of Bohemia (1366 – 1394).

Richard II King of England.jpg

Above: Richard II of England (1367 – 1399), King (1377 – 1399)

They were married in the Abbey in 1382.

Richard´s body was not allowed to rest in peace.

In the 18th century someone drilled a hole on the side of his tomb through which visitors could put their hand.

A number of bones went missing, including Richard´s jawbone which was only restored to the corpse in 1906.

Here are also buried King Edward III (1312 – 1377) and his wife Philippa (1310 – 1369).

Above: Effigy of Edward III of England (1312 – 1377), King (1327 – 1377)

The Confessor´s devotee King Henry III has his tomb here as well – beautifully decorated, cast in bronze and gilt.

Photograph of Henry's tomb

Here lie the remains of Queen Eleanor of Castille (1241 – 1290), first wife of Edward I.

Above: Statue of Eleanor of Castile (1241 – 1290), Queen (1272 – 1290)

And here lies Edward I (1239 – 1307), at 6 feet 2 inches, very tall for those days, hence his nickname Edward Longshanks.

A man in half figure with short, curly hair and a hint of beard is facing left. He wears a coronet and holds a sceptre in his right hand. He has a blue robe over a red tunic, and his hands are covered by white, embroidered gloves. His left hand seems to be pointing left, to something outside the picture.

Above: Edward I of England (1239 – 1307), King (1272 – 1307)

And seek here the tomb of Henry V (1387 – 1422) beside that of his wife Catherine de Valois (1401 – 1437).

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Above: Wedding of Henry V and Catherine de Valois

Her coffin and corpse were in full public view for centuries.

Henry V was considered one of England´s greatest monarchs, a fine military commander and an outstanding statesman.

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Above: Henry V of England (1386 – 1422), King (1413 – 1422)

(His archers beat the French at Agincourt.)

The English were devastated when he died suddenly in 1422, aged only 35.

He was buried in the Abbey on 7 November, “with such solemn ceremony, such mourning of Lords, such prayer of priests, such lamentation of the common people as never was before that day seen in the realm of England.”

The diarist Samuel Pepys, on a visit to the Abbey in 1669, kissed Catherine´s leathery lips, wrote:

Samuel Pepys.jpg

Above: Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)

“This was my birthday, 36 years old and I did first kiss a queen.”

Henry and Catherine are now protected by an iron grille.

The chairs and footstools in front were given in 1949 by the people of Canada for royal use.

To the south of the Altar are the medieval seats (“sedilia”) for the priests.

Above their heads are the paintings of Henry III and Edward I.

To the west of the sedilia is the flat-topped tomb of Anne of Cleves, the 4th wife of Henry VIII.

Anne of Cleves, by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg

Above: Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Queen (1540)

There are more than 600 tombs and monuments in the Abbey, some of them quite massive.

Many people commemorated here are remembered because of their distinguished careers, but quite a few owe their presence in the Abbey more to their wealth or social status.

Today distinguished figures are still commemorated in the Abbey, but our tributes today are rather muted compared with the flamboyance of previous centuries.

The huge monument in the North Ambulatory to General James Wolfe (1727 – 1759) reflects the 18th and 19th centuries´ glorification of military figures, especially when they have died at the moment of victory.

James Wolfe.jpeg

Above: James Wolfe (1727 – 1759)

Wolfe was killed, aged 32, while fighting on the Plains of Abraham, Québec City, in order to capture Canada from the French.

His opponent, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, being French who also died on the Plains, is given no mention.

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Above: Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (1712 – 1759)

Some of the best funereal art is tucked away in St. Michael´s Chapel, east of the Statesmen´s Aisle.

Admire the remarkable monument to Francis Vere (1560 – 1609), one of the greatest soldiers of the Elizabethan period, made out of two slabs of black marble, between which lies Sir Francis.

On the upper slab, supported by four knights, Francis´ armor is laid out, to show that he died away from the field of battle.

Near this a most striking grave, in which Elizabeth Nightingale, who died from a miscarriage, collapses in her husband Joseph´s arms while he tries to fight off the spear aimed at her by the skeletal figure of Death, who is climbing out of the tomb.

Lady Elizabeth & Joseph Nightingale

Above: Tomb of Joseph (1695 – 1752) and Elizabeth Nightingale (1704 – 1731)

In the North Ambulatory, two more chapels contain ostentatious Tudor and Stuart tombs.

One of the most extravagant tombs is that of Lord Hunsdon, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth I, which not only dominates the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, it is, at 36 feet in height, the tallest tombs in the entire Abbey.

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Above: Henry Carey, Lord Dunsdon (1526 – 1596)

From the second chapel, the Chapel of St. Paul, climb the stairs and enter the Lady Chapel (or Henry VII´s Chapel), the most dazzling part of the Abbey.

Begun by Henry VII in 1503 and dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the Lady Chapel is beautiful, light, intricately carved vaulting, fan.shaped gilded Pendants and the statues of nearly one hundred Saints, high above the choir stalls decorated with banners and emblems.

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Above: Henry VII of England (1457 – 1509), King (1485 – 1509)

George II, the last King to be buried in the Abbey, lies under your feet, along with his Queen Caroline – their coffins fitted with removable sides so that their remains can mingle.

George sitting on a throne

Above: George II of England (1683 – 1760), King (1727 – 1760)

(Certainly a different idea of necrophilia…)

Beneath the altar is the grave of Edward IV, the single sickly son of Henry VIII.

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Above: Edward IV of England (1442 – 1483), King (1461 – 1470 / 1471 – 1483)

Behind the Chapel´s centrepiece, the black marble sacrophagus of Henry VII and his spouse – their lifelike gilded effigies are perfectly obscured an ornate grille, designed by an artist more famous for fleeing Italy after breaking Michelangelo´s nose than for his own art: Pietro Torrigiano.

Above: Bust of Henry VII by Pietro Torrignano (1472 – 1528)

His funeral on 11 May 1509 was lavish:

“All the heralds cast their coats of armor off and hung them upon the rails of the hearse, crying lamentably in French – ´Le noble roi Henri le septieme est mort.´ – and as soon as they had done so, every herald put on his armor again and cried with a loud voice – ´Vive le roi Henri le huiteme.´”

Here one finds James I as well as James´ lover Duke George Villiers of Buckingham, the first non-royal to be buried in the Abbey.


Above: George Villiers (1592 – 1628)

Villiers was killed by one of his own disgruntled soldiers.

To the east the Royal Air Force Chapel: stained glass with airmen and angels in the Battle of Britain.

Logo of the Royal Air Force.svg

In the floor, a plaque marks the spot where Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell rested….


Until the Restoration, whereupon his mummified body was unearthed, dragged through the streets, hanged and beheaded.

To the north four maidens hold up a vast bronze canopy and weep for another of James I´s “favourites”, Ludovic Stuart.

Ludovic Stewart, 2nd Duke of Lennox, by English School of the 17th century.jpg

Above: Ludovic Stuart (1574 – 1624)

Before descending the steps back into the Ambulatory, pop into the Chapel´s north aisle.

Here siblings and hated rivals in life now lie side by side reconciled in death, Elizabeth I and her Catholic half-sister “Bloody” Mary.

“All those who divided at the Reformation by different convictions laid down their lives for Christ and conscience´s sake.”

At the far end is Innocents´ Corner.

Here James I´s infant daughters lie: Princess Sophia who died aged 3 days (1607) and Princess Mary who died the same year aged 2 (1605 – 1607)

Ähnliches Foto

Set in the wall between the sisters is the urn containing the bones of the Princes in the Tower, Edward V and his younger brother Richard.

Above: Richard (1473 – 1483) and Edward V of England (1470 – 1483)

As you leave the Lady Chapel, look for the Coronation Chair, a decrepit oak graffiti-covered throne which has been used in every coronation since 1308.

It was custom-built to incorporate the Stone of Scone (the Stone of Destiny), a great slab of redstone which acted as the Scottish coronation stone for centuries before Edward I stole it in 1296.

A replica of the Stone of Scone

William the Conqueror was crowned here on 25 December 1066.

Above: Coin of William the Conqueror (1028 – 1087), King (1066 – 1087)

It did not go well.

“When Archbishop Ealdred asked the English, and Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutences asked the Normans, if they would accept William as their King, all of them gladly shouted out with one voice, if not in one language, that they would.

The armed guard (William´s Norman troops), hearing the tumult of the joyful crowd in the church and the harsh accents of a foreign tongue, imagined that some treachery was afoot and foolishly set fire to some of the buildings.

The fire spread rapidly from house to house.

The crowd that had been rejoicing in the church took fright and throngs of men and women of every rank and condition rushed out of the church in haste.

Only the Bishops and a few clergy and Monks remained, terrified, in the Sanctuary, and with difficulty completed the consecration of the King, who was trembling from head to foot.”

On 25 February 1308 Edward II´s ceremony was dominated by his boyfriend Piers Gaveston (1284 – 1312).

Above: Edward II and Piers Gaveston by Marcus Stone (1872)

“Seeking his own glory rather than the King´s”, Gaveston wore an outfit of royal purple, trimmed with pearls.

Nor should he have walked in front of the King in the procession, nor carried Edward´s crown.

The barons were so annoyed at Galveston´s presumption that there was talk of killing him on the spot.

Both Edward and Piers would be assassinated later.

Henry VIII was only 17 at his coronation on 24 June 1509.

He walked to the Abbey from Westminster Palace along a carpet of royal blue.

The crowd was so enthusiastic that they fell on the carpet and cut it up for souvenirs.

Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII´s six wives, was crowned Queen on 1 June 1533.

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Above: Anne Boleyn (1501 – 1536)

The ceremony lasted 8 hours and at one point Archbishop Cranmer required Anne to lie on her face in front of the altar – not easy, when she was six months pregnant.

William III´s coronation in 1689 was spoiled by having his money pickpocketed.

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Above: William III of England (1650 – 1702), King (1689 – 1702)

To the south is the Abbey´s most popular spot: The Poets´ Corner.

Above: Poets´ Corner with Shakespeare Memorial in the centre

The first occupant, Geoffrey Chaucer, was buried here in 1400.

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Above: Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 1400)

When Edmund Spenser chose to be buried close to Chaucer in 1599, his fellow poets – Shakespeare among them – threw their own works and quills into the grave.

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Above: Edmund Spenser (1552 – 1599)

More than 100 poets, dramatists and prose writers are buried or commemorated here, as well as the composer George Frederick Handel.

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Above: George Frederick Handel (1685 – 1759)

(Handel´s funeral on 20 April 1759 was supposed to be private.

3,000 people turned up.)

“Upon the Poets´ Corner in Westminster Abbey

Hail, sacred relics of the tuneful train!

Here ever honoured, ever loved remain.

No other dust of the once great or wise,

As each beneath the hallowed pavement lies,

To this old dome a juster reverence brings….”

Who decides who is to be immortalized in Poets´ Corner?

The Dean of Westminster consults his colleagues in the Chapter and in the literary world, before reaching a decision which, by law, is his alone to make.

It is rare for a recently deceased poet to be memorialized.

The longest period between a poet´s death and memorialization is 1,3oo years: Caedmon (657 – 680), regarded as the first English language poet.

Above: Caedmon Memorial, St. Mary´s Churchyard, Whitby

The Corner has become a Valhalla for poets and a place of pilgrimage for lovers of literature.

The Poets´ Corner´s most famous memorial is that to William Shakespeare, erected 124 years after his death.


Above: William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616)

His body remains in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, with the inscription:

“Good friend, for Jesus´ sake, forbear

To dig the dust enclosed here!

Blest be the man that spares these stones

And curst be he that moves my bones.”

Why tempt fate?

The Abbey recalls actors: David Garrick, Henry Irving, William Walton, Laurence Olivier, William Walton and Peggy Ashcroft.

Here one finds a controversy:

Ben Jonson was an arrogant man who did not suffer fools and frequently quarrelled with his fellow dramatists.

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Above: Ben Jonson (1572 – 1637)

He lived apart from his wife, whom he described as “a shrew, yet honest.”

One of his plays caused grave offence by its lewdness and he was imprisoned.

He later killed a man in a duel and narrowly escaped the gallows.

As Jonson grew older he became fat and alcoholic.

He was too poor for a proper grave and said that a two-foot square would be enough for him.

And that´s what he got, as he was buried standing up.

His bones and coffin have been exposed three times since his burial.

His skull is missing.

Christopher Marlowe was memorialized 409 years after his death because it was felt the Poets´ Corner was already overcrowded.

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Above: Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593)

Tennyson called Marlowe the morning star which heralded Shakespeare´s dazzling sun.

Another description called him “intemperate and of a cruel heart.”

In 1593, at a Deptford tavern in South London, aged 29, Marlowe was fatally stabbed above his right eye, over a bill for supper.

John Milton had to wait more than 60 years before being memorialized.

Above: Bust of John Milton (1608 – 1674), Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

Milton, famous for his Paradise Lost, could have used the title for his autobiography.

In 1642 he married.

She left him after a few weeks.

In 1648 he began to go blind.

By 1652 he had lost his sight completely, as well as his wife and his only son.

In 1656 Milton married again but she died shortly after giving birth to a daughter.

He was passionate about what he hated.

Anti-Catholic, he called for bishops to be executed and prophesied that they would spend eternity in hell.

Milton attacked the greed of the clergy, rallied against censorship and wrote passionately against the monarchy.

On the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton went into hiding, his arrest was ordered and his books burned.

He was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was later pardoned and released.

Charles II greatly admired Samuel Butler.

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Above: Samuel Butler (1612 – 1680)

The King enjoyed Butler´s Hudibras so much that he never ate, drank, slept or went to church without having Hudibras beside him.

Despite the King´s adoration, Butler died penniless.

“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive

No generous patron would a dinner give!

See him, when starved to death and turned to dust

Presented with a monumental bust!

The poet´s fate is here in emblem shown

He asked for bread and he received a stone!”

Here one finds an impressive memorial to Matthew Prior, famous for sayings like:

Above: Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721)

“It takes two to quarrel, but only one to end it.”

“The ends must justify the means.”

“They never taste who always drink.

They always talk who never think.”

John Gay was said to be….

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Above: John Gay (1685 – 1732)

“In wit, a man; simplicity, a child.”

On Gay´s monument, Alexander Pope wrote a long epitaph, but Gay had the last laugh for two lines are Gay´s not Pope´s:

“Life is a jest, and all things show it.

I thought so once, and now I know it.”

Poets´ Corner is a Who´s Who of the English dead: Longfellow, Wilde, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Trollope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Austen, Keats, Shelley, Burns, the Bronte sisters, Thackeray, Gray, Goldsmith, Blake, Scott, Dickens, Lear, Browning, Brooke, Dylan Thomas, Auden….

Charles Dickens

Above: Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870)

(Charles Dickens was buried secretly on 14 June 1870 to avoid crowds, but so many wanted to pay their respects that the grave had to be left open for a time so the public could see him.)

Just to name a few….

Before you enter the Cloisters, check out the South Choir Aisle.

See the tomb of Thomas Thynne that shows how three thugs did him in.

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Above: Tomb of Thomas Thynne (1610 – 1669)

Or consider the ironic fate of Admiral Shovell, who survived a shipwreck, was washed up alive on a beach in the Scilly Isles, only to be killed by a fisherwoman who wanted his emerald ring.

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Above: Cloudesley Shovell (1650 – 1707)

Or that of the court portrait painter Godfrey Kneller who declared:

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Above: Geofrey Kneller (1646 – 1723)

By God, I will not be buried in Westminster – they do bury fools here.”

Kneller is the only artist to be commemorated in the Abbey.

Enter the Cloisters where Parliament once met, beneath the southern wall where the Whore of Babylon rides the scarlet seven-headed beast from the Book of Revelations.

See the Pyx Chamber which acted like a medieval high security safety deposit box.

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Robbers broke in on 24 April 1303 and stole jewels and riches.

Some of them were hanged the following March.

The ringleader of the Pyx robbery was whipped and nailed to the door of the Pyx Chamber as a warning to others.

500 years later pieces of human skin could still be found in the door hinges.

Before you leave the Cloisters enter the Nave itself.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior with his garland of red poppies recalls the million British soldiers who died in World War One, with an equivalent number of women dying unmarried because there were no husbands for them.

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A tablet in the floor near the Tomb marks the spot where George Peabody, the 19th century philantropist whose housing estates in London still provide homes for those in need, was buried for a month before being exhumed and removed to Massachusetts.

Above: George Peabody (1795 – 1869)

Peabody remains the only American to have been buried in Westminster.

Above the Nave´s west door, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger at just 25 teaches Anarchy while History takes notes.

With all I have described it certainly is no wonder why Westminster Abbey is so popular with tourists.

So much to see, so much to learn and yet Westminster left me with a sense of disappointment.

Not so much with the Abbey itself as much as what the Abbey represents.

Death has become a spectacle and a source of profit.

Does a life have no value if it is not commemorated grandly after death?

Does this mean that the Hindus value life less by burning the bodies of their dead?

And what of the poor who lie in anonymous mass graves unmarked and forgotten?

What of the millions who have died in war or in prison or by dread disease?

Did all these lives have no value because there are no markers to show where their bones are piled?

Does a life have no value if it is not historically significant?

Did all these lives lose their value once their bodies turned to ashes and dust?

I believe that the value of life is in the living, in the apppreciation of the moment, in the appreciation of the Now.

I believe that as long as my life is without extreme pain – physical or psychological – and I am not causing pain to others, then my life has value, at least to myself and hopefully beyond myself.

I don´t require assurance that my remains be assigned some grand memorial in some magnificent cathedral.

I don´t require a cemetery plot or even a funeral.

(Though a drinking party where folks dance with joy celebrating that they continue to live on without me would please me greatly.)

I don´t require a dim unprovable hope that some form of existence awaits me after death.

Am I suggesting that the visitor avoid Westminster Abbey?


It is truly a magnificent structure and is peculiar in its own ways.

But I would be more satisfied with plaques that spoke to me of who a deceased person was, both as a person and someone who accomplished great things.

Epitaphs sound grandiose when read aloud but they speak little about what a person was like when they were alive.

Byron´s monument:  “But there is that within me whuch shall tire torture and time and breathe when I expire.”

But who was Byron?

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Above: Lord George Byron (1788 – 1824)

T. S. Eliot: “The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.”

Fine words, but what of the poet who wrote them?

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Above: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888 – 1965)

Trollope: “Now I stretch out my hand and from the further shore I bid adieu to all who have cared to read any among the many words I have written.”

Wouldn´t it be more respectful to read the actual words Trollope wrote then to just simply view his gravesite?

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Above: Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1965)

D. H. Lawrence is labelled as “Home sum! The adventurer…” and G. M. Hopkins as “priest and poet, immortal diamond”.

But these words say nothing of who these genetlemen were.

The honour is in appreciating them for what they wrote and the life captured within their words.

Otherwise despite the fine artistry of the graves of Westminster, without an appreciation of who the dead were, what lies beneath slabs of stone is nothing but dust and ashes and the merest whisper of existence.

It would be better to show those that we love that they are loved, rather than mourn their passage which our dead cannot appreciate.

Westminster shows me that death is the great equalizer of us all, no matter how one wishes to decorate the tombs of kings and queens or poets and generals.

If while I live, others are happy that I do so….

“Wouldn´t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

And they´re always glad you came.

You want to go where you know troubles are all the same.

You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

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With a place like this, where everybody knows my name while I am still alive, I don´t need to be buried in some great cathedral.

A great grave doesn´t make a life great.

Great love does.                                                 

Sources: Wikipedia / The Rough Guide to London / Julian Beecroft, For the Love of London: A Companion / Nicholas Best, London: In the Footsteps of the Famous / Simon Leyland, A Curious Guide to London / Oliver Tearle, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape /

Canada Slim and the Battle for Switzerland´s Soul

Landschlacht, Switzerland, 18 December 2017

Battlefields can be deceptive when viewed long after the battles have been fought.

Take the example of Waterloo.

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Above: The Battle of Waterloo, Belgium, 18 June 1815

Once the tourist gets beyond the huge pyramid and the facilities set up to view and visit it he/she finds him/her self in quiet tranquil dairy country.

(For a glimpse of today´s Waterloo, please see That Which Survives: A Matter of Perspective of this blog.)

Go to Battle, near Hastings, and beyond the markers that indicate that major events took place here in 1066 resulting in the Norman Conquest of England, it is difficult to picture these tranquil fields the scene of anything beyond a hiker´s pleasant place for a stroll.

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Above: The Bayeux Tapestry, showing the Battle of Hastings, England, 14 October 1066

Yes, even today a few poppies grow between the crosses row by row in Flanders Field, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in World War One.

A page from a book. The first stanza of the poem is printed above an illustration of a white cross amidst a field of red poppies while two cannons fire in the background.

And while no birds sang back then, today ignorant avian creatures soar and swoop above farmers´ fields that have known the plow for centuries before and will probably know the plow for centuries to come.

It is difficult to understand the past through the eyes of the present.

It is difficult to understand the people of the past through our present perspectives.

As a resident in Switzerland these past seven years I find myself still waging an internal war within, between my preconceptions of the Swiss before I lived here and the reality and the history of who the Swiss actually are and how they got that way.

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I once viewed the Swiss as nothing more than banking gnomes with the passion of dry toast, similar to the goblins that run Gringot´s Bank in the Harry Potter series.

My view later expanded to see the Swiss through the eyes of Johanna Spyri´s children´s classic Heidi and I began to imagine the rural Swiss as hayseed farmers leading processions of bell-ringing bovine over hills reminiscient of Salzburg, Austria, where Julie Andrews reminds us that those hills are alive with the Sound of Music.

Above: Swiss CHF50 commemorative coin (2001)

To be fair, Switzerland does indeed have bankers and farmers that partially validate my preconceptions, but the Swiss are so much more than these.

If we consider that two symbols of Switzerland are the Swiss Army knife and the Swiss Guard that protects the Pope, it might help us to view the Swiss militarily as well.

Today we view Switzerland simply as a place where conflicting groups go to Geneva, have a little chocolate, discuss a bit of politics, shake hands and sign treaties.

We forget that once the Swiss were considered the world´s fiercest warriors and that warring nations eagerly bought their mercenaries from Switzerland, for even then: Swiss meant quality.

We forget that had it been in Swiss nature to be conquerors beyond their frontiers and had they acted when they held military superiority, today´s political map might look quite different.

Little did I know as I followed the footsteps of religious reformer Huldrych Zwingli that I would encounter the very events that would determine Swiss independence from Hapsburg rule, compel the country to adapt a policy of neutrality and redefine the role of the Swiss mercenary.


Above: Huldrych Zwingli (1484 – 1531)


Glarus, Switzerland, 15 November 2017

The walk continues.

My little Zwingli Project begun a month previously has brought me here, back to the Walensee, a beautiful lake  – 24.1 square kilometres of mysterious water that never fails to capture one´s breath.

Walensee vom Kerenzerberg gegen Osten

Above: Walensee and Kerenzerburg Mountain

I had already  walked from Zwingli´s birthplace in Wildhaus to Strichboden (13 km / 4 hours walk), to Arvenbüel (9 km / 3 hours walk), to Weesen (five km / 2 hours walk) and had learned and seen a lot.

(See Canada Slim and the Road to Reformation, ….and the Wild Child of Toggenburg, ….and the Thundering Hollows, ….and the Basel Butterfly Effect, ….and the Vienna Waltz for the events and background of the Zwingli Project in this blog.)

After a train to St. Gallen, another to Uznach and a third to Ziegelbrücke, followed by a bus to Weesen, I set off for Glarus, Zwingli´s first ecclesiastical post.

I walked past Weesen Harbour, the path clinging to the shoreline of the Walensee.

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Above: Harbour, Weesen, Walensee

Summer had clearly abandoned the lake: no boats afloat, no campfires burning, no kiosks surrounded by clamouring kids.

I saw only the occasional woman or retired gentleman walking their dogs.

The path left the lake, climbed to the highway leading to Ziegelbrücke, clung to a bridge crossing the Linth Canal that goes to where the Promised Land of Zürich beckons, descended back to the lake through a campground to a second canal – the Escher.

Der Linthkanal bei Reichenburg, Richtung Süden, im Hintergrund der Mürtschenstock.

I followed canal and towpath straight south, but less than a kilometre later the signage and my travelling companion guidebook failed me.

There were no signs and as beautiful as the ascent and the walk atop the mountains could have been, I lacked important information:

Were there cable cars, up the mountains, then, after hours of walking, back down the mountains, operating?

It was a workday and summer had long since passed.

If there were cable cars in operation, how passable were the mountains?

Were the paths blocked by snow?

Were trail markings still visible?

I decided to err on the side of caution and continued to follow the Escher Canal.

My guidebook ultimately leads the hiker to Glarus and my topographic map suggested the Canal continued straight south to Glarus, so – mountain views be damned – from the Canal I would not stray.

The territory I was walking through wasn´t so alien for me.

I had previously walked from where the Escher Canal (which manages the Linth River) begins in Linthal to Glarus.

I had taken a cable car from Linthal to visit the cars-free town of Braunwald.

Skyline of Braunwald

Above: The village of Braunwald

I had ridden a Postbus from Linthal to Klausenpass and the Uri cantonal capital Altdorf.

Above: Klausen Pass

And to accomplish these adventures to and from Glarus and Linthal I had ridden the train a number of times from Ziegelbrücke.

(For a glimpse of this, please see Glarus: Every Person a Genius of this blog.)


According to the legend, the inhabitants of the Linth River valley were converted to Christianity by the Irish monk St. Fridolin, who, after founding Säckingen Abbey in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, decided to keep travelling and keep on converting those he met during his travels.

In Switzerland, Fridolin spent considerable time where he converted the landowner Urso.

Above: Fridolin (left), Urso (middle) and Landolf (right). Urso´s brother Landolf protests against his brother´s landholdings being passed to Fridolin,  so Fridolin resurrects Urso to confirm the land grant.

On his death Urso left his enormous landholdings to Fridolin, who founded numerous churches all dedicated to St. Hilarius (the origin of the name “Glarus”).

From the 9th century, the Glarus region was owned by Säckingen Abbey until the Habsburgs claimed all the Abbey’s rights by 1288.

St. Fridolin has never been forgotten.

Canton Glarus joined the Swiss Confederation in 1352.

On 9 July 1386, the Swiss Confederation attacked and conquered the Habsburg village of Weesen.

The following year Canton Glarus rose up against the Habsburgs and destroyed Windegg Castle.

In response, on the night of 21-22 February 1388, a Habsburg army attacked the village of Weesen and drove out the Confederation forces.

In the beginning of April, two Habsburg armies marched out to cut off Canton Glaurus from the rest of the Confederation.

The main Confederation army, with about 5,000 men, marched towards Näfels under the command of Count Donat of Toggenburg and the knight Peter von Thorberg.

A second column, with about 1,500 men under the command of Count Hans von Werdenberg-Sargans, marched over the Kerenzerberg Pass above the Walensee.

Habsburgian attempts to reconquer the valley were repelled in the Battle of Näfels in 1388, where a banner depicting St. Fridolin was used to rally the people of Glarus to victory.

The main army, under Toggenburg and Thorberg, attacked and captured the fortifications around Näfels.

As they retreated, the Austrian army spread out to plunder the villages and farms.

The Glarners then emerged from the snow and fog to take the Habsburg troops by surprise as they were preoccupied with looting.

The Battle of Näfels, the last major battle of the Old Swiss Confederation vs the Austrian Hapsburgs, fought on 9 April 1388, was decisive, despite the forces of Glarus being outnumbered 16 to 1.

2,500 Austrians died.

Only 54 men of Glaurus were killed.

The disorganized Austrians broke and fled towards Weesen, but the collapse of the bridge over the Linth River dropped much of their army into the water where they drowned.

In 1389, a seven years´ peace treaty was signed in Vienna.

Above: Monument to the Battle of Näfels (9 April 1388)

That same year, the first Näfelserfahrt (Näfels pilgrimage) to the site of the battle was held.

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This pilgrimage, which still occurs, happens on the first Thursday in April in memory of this battle.

From that time onwards Canton Glarus has used the image of St. Fridolin on its flags and in its coat of arms.

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I lingered in Näfels after an hour´s stroll along the Escher Canal.

I visited the Glarus Cantonal Museum in the Freulerpalast (Freuler Palace), the Church of St. Hilarius with the grave of General Niklaus Franz von Bachmann (1740 – 1831) who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and the Battlefield Memorial.

Above: Freuler Palace, Näfels, Canton Glarus

The diverse history of the Canton is shown here with precious objects and paintings.

Here you can learn interesting facts on immigration and emigration, the practice of direct democracy and the Great Fire of Glarus.

(On the first Sunday in May, the Landesgemeinde brings out traditionally clad voters who publicly debate and decide politics in a manner rarely seen elsewhere.)

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Above: Landesgemeinde Glarus

You can see the development of textile printing that once was the most important industry in Glarnerland, the military and defence of Glarus and the significance of the region in alpine ski sport.

(The Museum is open from 1 April to 30 November, 1000-1200/1400-1730.  Please see

The towpath along the Escher Canal continues to Netstal, a town that lies beneath Wiggis Mountain where the Löntsch River (from the Klöntal) meets the Linth.

Above: Netstal

Here one finds both a Catholic and a Reformed church, a beautiful half-timbered house (the Stählihaus), a plaque on the side of the Ambühlhaus in memory of Battle of Näfels warrior Mathias Ambühl, and a memorial stone regarding an unfortunate mine launcher accident that took place on 15 December 1941 resulting in the loss of four soldiers´ lives.

Netstal was home to cartographer Rudolf Leuzinger (1826 – 1896), the youngest Swiss traitor ever executed Fridolin Beeler (1921 – 1943) and writers Ludwig Hohl (1904 – 1980) and Marcel Schwander (1929 – 2010).

In the 118 years between the Battle of Näfels and Zwingli assuming his post as priest in Glarus in 1506, Switzerland was far from being a peaceful place, for when the Swiss weren´t fighting against others they were fighting amongst themselves.

There had been the Appenzell Wars (1403 – 1428), war with Milan (1403 – 1428), the Basel War (1409), the annexations of Aargau (1415) and Thurgau (1460), the Raron Affair (1418 – 1419), the Old Zürich War (1436 – 1450), the St. James War (1445 – 1449), the Freiburg War (1447 – 1448), the Waldshut War (1468), the Burgundian Wars (1474 – 1477), the St. Gallen War (1489 – 1490), the Italian Wars (1495 – 1522) and the Swabian War (1499).

(The Swabian War is called the Swiss War by the Germans and the Engadin War by the Austrians.)

(For the fascinating story of the Burgundian Wars and how it lead to the Swiss being recognized as the militarily superior force in Europe, please see The Underestimated: The Bold and the Reckless of this blog.)

Often these wars were of Cantons seeking independence from Habsburg control and the Habsburg Empire seeking to regain it.

Bloodshed and violence were commonplace.

As previously mentioned in former blog posts, Zwingli had completed his studies in Weesen, Bern, Basel and Vienna, was ordained in Konstanz and celebrated his first mass in his hometown of Wildhaus, before his first ecclesiastical post in Glarus where he would remain for a decade. (1506 – 1516)

Above: Birthplace of Huldrych Zwingli, Wildhaus

It was in Glarus, whose soldiers were used as mercenaries throughout Europe, that Zwingli became involved in politics.

The hiring of young men to fight in other nations´ wars, including battles for the Pope, was one of the major industries for the Swiss.

During Zwingli´s pastorate in Glarus, the Swiss Confederation was embroiled in various campaigns with its neighbours: the French, the Habsburgs and the Papal States.

Zwingli placed himself solidly on the side of the Roman See.

In return, Pope Julius II honoured Zwingli by providing him with an annual pension.

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Above: Giuliano della Rovere (1443 – 1513), “the Fearsome Warrior Pope” Pope Julius II (1503 – 1513)

Zwingli took the role of chaplain in several Swiss campaigns of the aforementioned Italian Wars.

The Italian Wars (also referred to as the Great Italian Wars or the Great Wars of Italy or the Renaissance Wars) were a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559 that involved, at various times, most of the city-states of Italy, the Papal States, the Republic of Venice, most of the major states of Western Europe (France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire, England, Swiss mercenaries and Scotland) as well as the Ottoman Empire.

The Italian Wars are: the First Italian War / King Charles VIII´s War (1494 – 1498), ….

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Above: Charles VIII of France (1470 – 1498), King (1483 – 1498)

(Charles VIII of France invaded Italy with 25,000 men, including 8,000 Swiss mercenaries.)

….the Second Italian War / King Louis XII´s War (1499 – 1504), ….


Above: Louis XII of France (1462 – 1515), King (1499 – 1515)

(Louis XII of France invaded Italy with 27,000 men, including 5,000 Swiss mercenaries.  Julius II became Pope in 1503.)

….the Third Italian War / the War of the League of Cambrai (1508 – 1516), ….

(The Pope hired 6,000 Swiss mercenaries in the War against the French.)

….the Italian War of 1521 – 1526, the War of the League of Cognac (1526 – 1530), the Italian War of 1536 – 1538, the Italian War of 1542 – 1546, and the Habsburg-Valois War of 1551 – 1559.

The attentive reader may note that I do not mention Swiss mercenary involvement in the last five Italian conflicts.

That is because three battles – one in King Louis´ War and two in the War of the League of Cambrai – would make the Swiss question themselves as regards to their military role and their allegiance to the Catholic Church.

While Zwingli was in Vienna, he probably had heard of the Treason of Novara in 1500.

King Louis XII of France had conquered the Duchy of Milan in 1499 with the help of Swiss mercenaries.

In the spring of 1500, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, in his turn hired Swiss mercenaries in his bid to reconquer the Duchy.

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Above: Ludovico Sforza (1452 – 1508), Duke (1494 – 1499)

The two groups of Swiss mercenaries found themselves on both sides of a conflict.

The two mercenary armies confronted one another at Novara, a city west of Milan.

6,000 Swiss under the command of Sforza defended the city, while 10,000 Swiss under the command of Louis laid siege to it.

A meeting of delegates from the Swiss soldiers´ individual cantons called for negotiations between the two sides in an attempt to prevent the worst case scenario of the Swiss being forced to slaughter one another, “brothers against brothers and fathers against sons”.

Louis agreed to a conditional surrender which would grant free passage to the Swiss abandoning the city, under the condition that Sforza would be surrendered.

However, the Swiss on Sforza´s side, under an oath of loyalty to their employer, decided to dress Sforza as a Swiss and smuggle him out of town.

On 10 April 1500, the Swiss garrison was leaving Novara, passing a cordon formed by the Swiss on the French side.

French officers were posted to oversee their exit.

As the disguised Sforza passed the cordon, one Swiss mercenary Hans Turman of Uri made signs giving away Sforza´s identity.

Above: Sforza handed over to the French

The Duke was apprehended by the French and died eight years later as a prisoner in the castle of Loches.

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Above: Loches Castle

The French rewarded Turman for his treason with 200 gold crowns (corresponding to five years´ salary of a mercenary).

Turman escaped to France, but after three years he returned home to Uri.

He was immediately arrested for treason and executed by decapitation.

The Treason left a mark on the Swiss conscience.

Were they nothing more than men without honour, selling themselves to the highest bidder?

Was Swiss unity so cheaply sacrificed?

I am uncertain as to the exact demands required of an army chaplain in Zwingli´s day, but I suspect that in spite of his religious role he was expected to raise arms against the enemy when it was required, for it was in battle in Kappel am Albis in 1531 that Zwingli would meet his demise and Zwingli´s most prominent statue – at Zürich´s Wasserkirche –  shows him with sword firmly in hand.

Zwingli´s battle experiences would make him question the role of the Swiss as mercenaries which mainly enriched cantonal authorities.

On 6 June 1513, in the aforementioned city of Novara (Naverra) where the Swiss had gained the reputation of being treasonous, Zwingli was part of a force of some 12,000 troops that surprised the occupying French and soundly defeated them.

It was a shockingly bloody battle, with 5,000 casualities on the French side and 1,500 for the Swiss pikemen.

Illustration aus der Chronik des Johannes Stumpf, 1548

Above: The Battle of Novara, 6 June 1513

After the battle, the Swiss executed the hundreds of German Landsknecht mercenaries they had captured that had fought for the French.

Having routed the French army, the Swiss were unable to launch a close pursuit because of their lack of cavalry, but nonetheless several contingents of Swiss mercenaries followed the French withdrawl all the way to Dijon before the French paid them to leave France.

This one French defeat forced Louis XII to withdraw from Milan and Italy.

Did Zwingli witness these events and contemplate the morality of such actions?

The citizenry, Zwingli´s parishioners, remained loyal to the idea of fighting for the Pope until 13 September 1515….

16 km southeast of Milan is the town of Melegnano, then called Marignano.

This battle between the French and the Swiss would change everything.

The French army was composed of the best armored lancers and artillery in Europe and led by Francis I, newly crowned King of France and one day past his 21st birthday.


Above: Francis I of France (1494 – 1547), King (1515 – 1547)

With Francis were German Landknechts, bitter mercenary rivals of the Swiss for fame and renown in war, and late arriving Venetian allies.

Prior to Marignano there were years of Swiss successes, during which French fortunes in northern Italy had suffered greatly.

The prologue to the battle was a remarkable Alpine passage, in which Francis hauled 72 large cannons over new-made roads over the Col d´Argentiere, a previously unknown route on the French-Italian border.

Above: The village of Larche, France, and the Col d´Argentiere

This was, at the time, considered one of the foremost military exploits of the age and the equal of Hannibal´s crossing of the Alps in 218 BC.

At Villafranca, the French surprised and captured the commander of the Papal forces in a daring raid deep behind enemy lines, seizing Commander Colonna and his staff, 600 horses and a great deal of booty.

The capture of Prospero Colonna, along with the startling appearance of the French army on the plains of Piedmont, stunned the Papal allies.

Above: Prospero Colonna (1452 – 1523)

The Pope and the Swiss both sought terms with Francis, while the Pope´s Spanish allies en route from Naples halted to await developments.

The main Swiss army retreated to Milan, while a large faction, tired of the War and eager to return home with the profits of years of successful campaigning, urged terms with the French.

Though the parties reached an agreement that gave Milan back to the French, the arrival of fresh and bellicose troops from the Swiss cantons annulled the agreement, as the newly arrived men had no desire to return home empty-handed and refused to abide by the treaty.

Discord swept through the Swiss forces until Matthäus Schiner, Cardinal of Sion and archenemy of Francis, inspired the Swiss with a fiery speech, reminding them of what a smaller Swiss army had achieved against as powerful a French army at the Battle of Novara.

Above: Matthäus Schiner (1465 – 1522)

Schiner pointed out the enormous profits of victory, appealed to national pride, and urged the Swiss to immediate battle.

The Swiss encountered Francis´ forces at the little burnt-out village of Marignano on a featureless plain.

A treaty signed, the French were not expecting battle.

Francis was in his tent, trying on a new suit of armor, when scouts reported the coming of the Swiss.

The French army quickly sprang into action.

The fighting, begun at sunset of 13 September, continued until smoke and the disappearance of moonlight halted the battle during the darkest hours of the night.

At dawn of 14 September the battle began again.

Above: The Battle of Marignano (13 – 14 September 1515)

The midmorning arrival of the French´s allies from Venice turned the tide against the Swiss.

Their attacks repulsed everywhere, their ranks in bloody shambles, the Swiss grudgingly gave ground and withdrew.

The battle was a decisive victory for Francis, for even though the Swiss were heavily outnumbered and outgunned, they had proved themselves during the preceding decades and had habitually emerged victorious from the most disadvantageous situations.

“I have vanquished those whom only Caesar vanquished” was printed on the medal Francis ordered struck to commemorate the victory.

Considering this battle his most cherished triumph, Francis praised Marignano as the “battle of giants” and stated that all previous battles in his lifetime had been “child´s sport”.

This battle ended once and for all Swiss aspirations for conquest.

There never was any Swiss military offensive against an external enemy again.

After lengthy negotiations, a peace treaty between the Swiss and the French was signed in Fribourg on 29 November 1516.

This treaty would be known as the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, a peace that remained unbroken until the French invaded Switzerland in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars.

Zwingli was present at the Battle of Marignano.

He would witness the slaughter of 6,000 of his countrymen in the service of the Pope.

Above: Dying Swiss, Retreat from Marignano, by Ferdinand Hodler (1898)

In Glarus, there had been political controversy on which side the young men seeking employment as mercenaries should take service, the side of France or the side of the Papal States.

They wanted to prevent that men of Glarus took service on both sides of the war as had been the case at Novara in 1500.

Zwingli had supported the Pope before the Battle of Marignano, and even after the Battle, he opposed the peace with France and continued to support the side of the Papal States.

Since public opinion in Glarus had shifted towards a clearly pro-French stance, Zwingli was forced to abandon his position in Glarus, taking employment elsewhere at Einsiedeln Abbey.

Above: Einsiedeln Abbey

Based on his experience in the War, Zwingli became an outspoken opponent of mercenary service, arguing with Erasmus of Rotterdam that war is sweet only to those who have not experienced it”.


Above: Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (1466 – 1586)

He returned from Marignano determined to abolish this mercenary practice of “selling blood for gold”.

Zwingli blamed the warmongery on the part of Cardinal Schiner for the disaster at Marignano and began to preach against the high clergy, the first sign of his radicalization that would culminate in the Swiss Reformation.


I continued to follow the Canal to the Canton Glarus capital also named Glarus.

Above: The City of Glarus

Of interest to the visitor are the Stadtkirche (city church), the Kunsthaus (art museum), the Anna Göldi Museum and the Cantonal library.

Anna Göldi.jpg

Above: Anna Göldi (1734 – 1782)

(Anna Göldi was the last person in Europe to be executed for witchcraft.)

(For the story of witchcraft in Switzerland, please see Five Schillings´ Worth of Wood of this blog.)

Though the Stadtkirche was once the church where Zwingli presided and is today a Reformed Church, there still seems to be no love lost for Zwingli.

Above: Stadtkirche, Glarus

I explored the church inside and out, but I could find no plaques or markers indicating that he had ever been here.

Glarus´ grudge towards Zwingli was neither forgiven nor forgotten.

Glarus was not shaped by Zwingli during his lifetime, but Glarus and Zwingli´s war experiences certainly shaped him.

I have always loved Glarus, this picturesque wee capital dwarfed by the looming Glarnsch Massif.

I have always loved Glarnerland, this tract of mountain territory with widely spaced settlements and very low-key tourism.

Isolation is attractive.

Sources: Wikipedia / Glarus Tourism / Josef Schwitter and Urs Heer, Glarnerland: A Short Portrait / Marcel and Yvonne Steiner, Zwingli-Wege: Zu Fuss von Wildhaus nach Kappel am Albis