Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Weekend in Switzerland

Greetings from Oxford once again!  I apologize for such a long break in between posts, but things have been quite busy for the past week!  I was fortunate to be able to spend last weekend in Fribourg, Switzerland with the Dominican friars who teach in the theology faculty at the University of Fribourg.  It was a fantastic experience, and I was really able to experience Swiss culture during my visit!

On Friday, I flew from London to Geneva, and then took a train from Geneva to Fribourg, during which I got to see some spectacular views of the mountains and of Lake Geneva - quite a change from the landscape of Oxford!  When I arrived at the train station in Fribourg, I was greeted by Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P., a Dominican friar who taught at Providence College during my first two years at PC and who was my professor for an independent study in Christology during my sophomore year.  Fr. Legge is currently in Fribourg writing his doctoral dissertation in theology at the University of Fribourg.  Fr. Legge brought me to the Albertinum, the Dominican priory in Fribourg, where I got settled in, and then we went out for a brief tour of the city.

The Albertinum

Fribourg is a quite old, with parts dating back to the thirteenth century.  The center of town, called the Basse-Ville is built in a valley and originally had strong fortifications and walls surrounding it, some of which are still standing.  The architecture in the city is absolutely fantastic - very Germanic and medieval-looking, with cobblestone streets, and plenty of beautiful religious art and statuary placed throughout the city.

The Basse-Ville

Walking around Fribourg is quite the source of exercise because the terrain is very hilly, and the city if full of enormous staircases - there is no need for a stair-master there!  The city is also located on the banks of the Sarine river, which runs through the Basse-Ville and serves as a main power source for the city.

The spire of the cathedral and a view of the river

On Saturday, I went to morning prayer with the friars in the Albertinum, and after that, I was introduced to Fr. Paul-Bernard Hodel, O.P., who is a professor of Church History at the University of Fribourg.  Before I was given the opportunity to study at Blackfriars this summer, I had been planning to work with Fr. Hodel in Fribourg, so it was a pleasure to meet him after we had spent a while corresponding.  He had planned quite the adventure for the day.  After being in Fribourg for less than twelve hours, Fr. Hodel, Fr. Legge, and I set off for France, which is actually right on the other side of Lake Geneva, about an hour's drive from Fribourg.  We made a stop in Evian (yes, the home of the bottled water; no, I didn't have any bottled water, although I did drink out of a fountain in the town square, which is probably dispensing the same water that everyone else is buying!).

Fr. Hodel then took us to Chateau des Allinges, which was one of the holdings of the Duke of Savoy and which dates back to the tenth century.  It was partially destroyed in battle, but its chapel remained intact.  During the Protestant Reformation, St. Francis de Sales lived in the chateau and traveled daily into the city below to preach.  Much of the chateau is still in ruins, although a newer building (17th or 18th century) has been built next to the chapel and serves as a residence for the Salesian community that lives there now.  Fr. Legge and Fr. Hodel celebrated Mass for me in the chapel there, which was where St. Francis de Sales celebrated his daily Mass when he lived at the chateau.  The chapel has a beautiful mural in the central apse, which is an original piece from the tenth century and is pretty well preserved.

Chapel of St. Francis de Sales

Chateau des Allinges

After Mass, we headed down toward Lake Geneva to a local restaurant right on the water, where Fr. Hodel, Fr. Legge, and I had lunch.  We had delicious, fresh perche, which had been caught in Lake Geneva, as well as authentic, French, French fries, and, of course, dessert.  It was a great meal with a beautiful view!

After lunch, we headed back to Switzerland for a visit to Chateau Chillon, a twelfth century castle located right on Lake Geneva, which had been a residence for the Counts of Savoy, and ws later used in the sixteenth century as a prison and arsenal for the Swiss.  It was great to explore the castle and learn a bit about Swiss history!

The Chateau Chillon in Switzerland

On Sunday morning, Fr. Legge and I took off after morning prayer to go to the Cistercian Monastery at Hauterive just outside Fribourg to celebrate Mass for Pentecost.  It was a beautiful liturgy celebrated by the Abbot of the monastery with a beautiful monastic schola which sang the Mass in traditional Cistercian chant.  It was very different from any Mass I had been to before, and even though it was celebrated in Latin and French, I was still able to follow along, and I was very happy that I was able to experience this type of monastic prayer which has been such an integral part of European Catholicism for centuries.  After Mass, one of the monks took Fr. Legge and me for a brief tour of the grounds of the monastery.  The monks still farm and raise cattle to support themselves, which is a tradition that many religious communities seem to have abandoned.

Chapel of Cistercian Monastery of
Hauterive in Fribourg

Fr. Legge and me on the monastery grounds

After Mass, we returned to the Albertinum for the main meal, which was quite a feast because it was Pentecost.  The main course was a delicious steak, cooked to a perfect medium-rare and very juicy and tender.  At one point during the meal, I turned to Fr. Legge and said, "This steak is delicious!"  He smiled and replied, "I'm glad you like it, but it isn't beef.  I'll tell you later."  As it turns out, it was horse!  Apparently, beef in Switzerland is not of the greatest quality (even though their dairy is top-notch), and horse meat is much cheaper, more readily available, and much better tasting.  I must confess, it was delicious!

After lunch, Fr. Legge and I took off for the German speaking region of Switzerland headed toward the Alps.  We stopped in a small village called Steckelberg, where we boarded a gondola which brought us almost a mile high into the mountains.  We hiked one of the mountain trails for a good part of the afternoon, catching some fantastic views, some close-up cow and goat encounters, and even getting to walk under a waterfall!  It was an absolutely fantastic experience.  At one point, when we were coming out a forested area and getting ready to turn around and head back down, we came across a solitary restaurant sitting in the middle of a wide-open field, so we stopped there and tried the local beer of the region before heading back down.

Passing under the waterfall

The restaurant we happened upon during our hike!
We met some of Switzerland's proudest citizens!

Me and Fr. Legge after our hike

Upon returning to Fribourg, I still had one last essential element of Swiss culture to experience - fondue!  Fr. Legge and Fr. Dominic Langevin, O.P., an American friar who is also studying at the University of Fribourg, made an authentic homemade fondue with local Gruyère made right in the canton (like a county) of Fribourg.  At the beginning, it was a bit odd to just be eating pieces of bread soaked in cheese, but it was actually quite delicious!  During the meal, I learned that the preparation of fondue is a very preicse and scientific process, so it was fascinating to observe the friars being so meticulous as they made it.

Fr. Legge prepares the fondue

Fr. Langevin and Fr. Legge enjoying dinner


On Monday morning, Fr. Legge and I went for another brief walking tour for a sort of pilgrimage to the churches of Fribourg.  Fribourg has several churches all within walking distance (at one point we came across five churches within a 300 yard radius!), which were historically associated with different religious orders.  They all date from different time periods, so some were very medieval looking, while others were quite baroque; it was very interesting to see the contrast in styles and to see the vestiges of the Catholic culture which once thrived in Fribourg (while there is no separation of church and state in Switzerland and the official state religion of Fribourg is Roman Catholicism, there are very few practicing Catholics in the city and the Catholic culture seems to have all but died out there - a very sad situation, indeed).

On Monday afternoon, I boarded my train from Fribourg to Geneva and caught a flight from Geneva back to London and arrived back in Oxford on Monday evening.  It was certainly a very busy weekend, and I got to see and experience a great deal!  I'm very thankful to Fr. Legge, Fr. Hodel, and the Dominicans in Fribourg who arranged such a wonderful visit for me.

Now, however, it's back to the books; I'll be posting again soon to share some of what I've been up to this week!

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