Saints and Holy People

Find out about their lives and how they changed the world

Saint Bernard of Montjoux (c. 923–1008)

Saint Bernard of Montjoux (c. 923–1008)

Patron saint of the Alps; also of skiers, snowboarders, hikers, backpackers, and mountain climbers

Feast day: May 28

Saint Bernard of Montjoux (also known as Saint Bernard of Menthon) was an Italian priest and member of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. In a popular legend, his wealthy family had arranged a marriage for him, but he snuck out of his castle the night before the wedding, throwing himself out a window. Angels are said to have caught him and lowered him to the ground, 40 feet below!

In any case, he was ordained a priest and assigned to ministry in the mountain villages of the Alps. He was promoted to archdeacon of the diocese, which gave him direct governance of it, under the bishop. An Alpine pass leading from Switzerland to Italy, and then to Rome, was a dangerous path, often used by pilgrims on their way to Rome. Bernard founded a monastery of Canons Regular and a hostel for travelers at the top of this pass. Later, he established another hostel at another dangerous pathway through the mountains. The monks used large dogs to help them rescue stranded travelers. These dogs were called “St. Bernards” after Saint Bernard of Montjoux.

The community of Canons Regular still exists. A few dogs are still kept as pets and are no longer used for rescue. A tunnel has been built to replace the dangerous passage, and rescues are made by helicopter.  

(Image Jpvoutaz, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)