At the height of the Great St. Bernhard Pass, 2469 metres
above sea level, a hospice was founded by monks in the 11th Century as a refuge
for travellers and pilgrims. There, large mountain dogs have been kept since the
middle of the 17th Century for watch and protection. The existence of such dogs
had been documented pictorially since 1695 and in a written document at the
hospice since the year 1707. The dogs were soon in use as companion dogs and
specially as rescue dogs for travellers lost in snow and fog. The chronicles
published in many languages about the numerous human lives snatched by these
dogs from the white death” and the verbal reports of the soldiers who crossed
the pass with Napoleon in 1800, spread the fame of the St. Bernard, called
Barry-dog at this time, throughout Europe during the 19th Century.
The legendary dog “Barry” became the epitome of the
rescue dog. The direct ancestors of the St. Bernard were the large farm dogs
widely distributed in the region and which, within a few generations, were bred
as the present day breed according to a blue-print of the ideal type. Heinrich
Schumacher from Holligen near Bern was the first to issue genealogical documents
for his dogs. In February 1884 the “Schweizerisches Hundestammbuch (SHSB), the
Swiss Dog Stud Book” was opened.
The very first entry was the St. Bernard “Leon” and the
further 28 entries also concerned St. Bernards. On the 15th March 1884, the
Swiss St. Bernards Club was founded in Basle. On the occasion of the
International Canine Congress on June 2nd 1887, the St. Bernard dog was
officially recognised as a Swiss breed and the breed standard was declared as
binding. Since them the St. Bernard has been the Swiss national dog. .