Saturday, October 18, 2014

Swiss Day Getaway - St. Ursanne

Züri, Bern, Basel, Luzern are great, but I really love to visit the small villages of Switzerland.  These remote locations often require a few well planned train connections into the agricultural wonderland of the hills, but the effort is often rewarded with an unique insight into the diversity of Switzerland. Small villages often have their own special celebrations, customs and even dialect.  It is a reminder that while the country is united as a whole, these areas retain their distinct cultural heritage.

One such village, located in the Jura region of Switzerland, is St. Ursanne.  This town is so tiny that on a busy day, it may boast a total of 900 or so inhabitants.  The train doesn't even stop inside the town. One walks about a mile from the station to the picturesque little hamlet.

Many small Swiss villages, and St. Ursanne is no exception, sprouted around abbeys or monasteries. In the early 600s, St. Ursanne was founded by the Irish missionary St. Ursicinus in an attempt to convert the pagans living near the River Doubs .  The sleepy, medieval town is dominated by the collegiate church and cloister.  Above the town, one can climb the steep steps to the hermitage, visiting the little shrines along the path and getting a striking view of the valley below.

Legend has it that St. Ursicinus climbed the hill above the valley to seek religious solitude in the cave above the valley. While there, a bear is said to have brought him gifts of medicinal herbs and twigs.  See?  Even the bears are helpful in Switzerland.  You can see a slightly creepy representation of the saint seemingly taking a nap under a statue of the Virgin Mary while a bear with questionable intentions rambles in.  Weird, but worth the trek.  
If you are curious about the stories of saints, you may be asking yourself, "What is St. Ursincinus the patron saint of?"  I'm so glad that you asked!  He is invoked on behalf of the sufferers of stiff necks.   Why not the patron saint of bear trainers or cave nap takers?  I guess they can't all be rock stars.