The village of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses, Eudracinum in Latin, became an important mansio; a place of refuge that was responsible for maintaining and controlling the road at the foot of which it was located. Unlike some simple stop-off stations, the mansiones were usually settlements where, in addition to changing horses to continue the journey, were also inns which offered a short rest before or immediately after the most demanding part of the journey, a market and some workshops that responded to any of the pilgrims’ needs. In fact, the present municipality of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses combines two villages, Bosses (or Saint-Léonard) and Saint-Rhémy proper, whose history is indelibly linked to that of nearby Great Saint Bernard’s pass.
The Great Saint Bernard Pass
Situated at an altitude of 2,473 metres, the Great Saint Bernard pass is located along one of the oldest and most important communication routes through the Alps. The Roman road was built in 12 BC under Emperor Augustus. In 1892, the Swiss section of the current road was opened to road traffic, and in 1905 the Italian section followed. Many famous people are said to have travelled on this road: Charlemagne, numerous Popes, and, in 1800, Napoleon himself, who spectacularly led his army upon the pass, leaving his mark on the local culture. The symbol of the pass is the Hospice, which was founded around the middle of the 11th century. The services provided by this house of hospitality soon attracted the attention and favour of Popes, princes and the faithful. The Hospice brought fame to the whole region. The icon of the pass is the Saint Bernard dog, which contributed to making the Hospice and its image popular with travellers. Nowadays, even during winter when the road is closed, the Hospice continues to offer hospitality to those who pass by.
The church at Saint-Rhémy
The actual parish church of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses dates to the end of the 1700s. Very few information is left from the previous building. Because of its bad conditions, already reported by the Bishops in the occasion of a pastoral visit at the end of the 17th century, it was decided to proceed – at the end of 1784 – to its reconstruction. Consecrated in June 1843, the actual church was the object of further works in 1886. The niche situated at street level, under the porch that precedes the entrance which gives access to the church, was once destined to host the statue of Saint Christopher, protector of wayfarers, who walked, in large numbers, the road which led towards the pass. The interior of the church is articulated in three naves, with two side chapels in correspondence with the presbytery. The main altar, with a painting representing the Virgin Mary with the Child and Saint-Rhémy, was realized by the Stornoni, a family of painters from Ivrea, in 1898, at the same time of the decoration of the church’s interior, which was also entrusted to them. In the side chapel is placed the wooden statue of the Virgin of Mount Carmel, which can be dated to around half on the 18th century, and which is coming from the ancient convent of the Capuchins in Aosta. The stone altar dedicated to the Virgin of Rosary (Vergine del Rosario) can be dated to the 17th century. In the left nave, on ledges, are located the statues of Saint Barbara and Saint Joseph, which can be dated to the 19th century, and that of Saint Paul, which dates to the 18th century. The interior of the church was restructured at the beginning of the 1960s.
The inhabitants of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses and Etroubles enjoyed the exclusive right to accompany travellers and their goods from the city gates of Aosta up to the pass. This right, the so-called viérie du Montjoux, was granted by the Savoy family in the early 10th century and regulated by relevant statuses in 1273. Those who provided the service were called marroniers, and they worked as guides and carriers. Some of the luckier ones had pack animals, others carried travellers’ luggage directly on their backs, often travelling for several days, braving snow, storms, and the risk of avalanches. In return for this right, the inhabitants of the two villages had to maintain the road in good condition as far as the pass and host the Savoy landlords and their guests for free whenever they passed through the valley. In 1627, the legacy of the marroniers was adopted by the “soldiers of the snow”, who actively continued the tradition of rescue and road maintenance until as late as 1927.
The Via Francigena: A Roman Road through the Aosta valley
The slow rhythm of a journey on foot leads to the discovery of many charming places scattered along the Via Francigena. The very road that in the Middle Ages was one of the most important communication routes between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean, enters Italy through the Great Saint Bernard pass (in fact, there is more than one branch of this road). The descent towards Aosta begins in a landscape which is typical of the high altitudes. The echo of the great collective tradition of pilgrimages through the Middle Ages, journeying towards sacred places – Rome in primis, but also Santiago de Compostela, or even further to Jerusalem – is still alive today, in a modern key, in this network of local footpaths and trails connected within a long-distance route. This is now one of the most outstanding itineraries in Europe; the section in the Aosta valley covers about 70 km of route, fully signposted, which closely follows the remains of the ancient road, often connecting historical buildings too (churches, chapels, monasteries, hospices, inns, castles).
Once a fortress, Château Verdun, in the nearby municipality of Saint-Oyen, stands at an altitude of 1350 metres, and is set in green countryside halfway between Aosta and the Great Saint Bernard pass. Since the 11th century, the Château and the surrounding area have been placed at the service of the Great Saint Bernard Hospice, as a resting place for travellers and their mules, and as a storehouse for the Hospice’s supplies. This role has been faithfully maintained up to the present day, in the spirit of hospitality which so characterizes the order of Saint Bernard.
Return from Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses to Aosta Valley
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