In this 7 minute radio interview on the Sonrise Morning Show, Dr. Italy highlights a destination on his upcoming 2023 Rhine pilgrimage that is known for it’s spectacular beauty – the city of Lucerne, Switzerland. But more than just the majestic setting of Alpine mountains and lakes, the city offers a long and rich Catholic history to explore. What many today don’t realize is that the city has its roots in a monastery of the early Middle Ages, and unlike most of its neighbors, Lucerne stood firm in its Catholic faith during the tumultuous years of the Protestant Reformation.
Many people tend to think more of Protestant Reformation figures like Calvin and Zwingli than of Catholicism when it comes to Switzerland, but the Catholic Church was instrumental in founding the city of Lucerne which held to its Catholic faith, even while many of its neighbors came under Protestant sway.
Lucerne is a place of spectacular natural beauty. Two mountains tower over the city, Mt. Pilatus and Mt. Rigi, which sits on a peninsula jutting out into an Alpine lake, from which flows the river Reuss. On this spot, so apt a location for contemplating the majestic beauty of God, monks founded a monastery around 750 AD. Over time, lay people came and settled around the monastery, and a town was formed. The monasteries were actually the agricultural and trade colleges of Europe in the early Middle Ages, and towns often grew up around them.
In the 13th century, the Alpine pass of St. Gotthard was opened, connecting to Italy & Germany, and Lucerne became an important stop and trading center along the way. The town grew enormously after the opening of the pass. A covered wooden bridge was built over the river that is 660 ft long, over two football fields in length! Later, another bridge was built over the Reuss River with a chapel in the middle: “The Chapel Bridge”.
Above image of a bridge in Lucerne by Flora Hon on Unsplash. Public domain.
The Reformation came and swept away most of the important cities in Switzerland . . . Berne, Basel, Zurich, Geneva. But Lucerne battled to hold onto its Catholic faith. The Capuchins and Jesuits came and had a special influence, connected with two great saints: St. Charles Borromeo, who came from up from Milan and influenced the Jesuits to establish a church in Lucerne, and from Germany, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin who was martyred by Calvinist soldiers after preaching in Switzerland. The beauty of the two mountains towering over the city can be seen as symbols of these two towering pillars of the faith, who helped Lucerne hold onto its Catholic faith.
Lucerne (a name which means “lantern”), stands as a beacon of beauty and fidelity to the faith, and is an ideal location to explore some of the great themes of our upcoming Rhine pilgrimage (Spring of 2023): seeing the glory of God in the beauty of his creation, and getting to know some of the “towering” saints of Europe.
Banner/featured image of Lucerne by Simon Infanger on Unsplash. Public domain.