The first hospice or monastery at 2469m altitude at the Great St Bernard Pass was built in the 9th century at Bourg-Saint-Pierre, which was mentioned for the first time around 812-820. This was destroyed by Saracen incursions in the mid-10th century, probably in 940, the date at which they also occupied Saint-Maurice. Around 1050, Saint Bernard of Menthon, archdeacon of Aosta, regularly saw travellers arriving terrorised and distressed, so he decided to put an end to mountain brigandage in the area. With this in mind, he founded the hospice at the pass which later bore his name (it was originally dedicated to St Nicholas). The church's first textual mention is in a document of 1125. The hospice was placed under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Sion, prefect and count of Valais, thus explaining why the whole pass is now in Swiss territory.
The St Bernard dog breed was created at the hospice from cross-breeding dogs, probably those offered by families in Valais in the 1660s and 1670s. The first definite mention of the breed is in 1709. The breed was originally raised to provide guard dogs for the hospice, before they became mountain rescue dogs. The St Bernards were specially bred and trained for the role of mountain rescue because they were sufficiently strong to cross deep snow drifts and had the capacity to track lost travelers by scent. The first evidence that the dogs were in use at the monastery is in two paintings dating to 1690 by Salvatore Rosa.
When old age deprived him of strength, the Prior of the Convent pensioned him at Berney, by way of reward. After his death, his hide was stuffed and deposited in the museum of that town. The little phial, in which he carried a reviving liquor for the distressed travellers whom he found among the mountains, is still suspended from his neck.
The last recorded rescue by one of the dogs was in 1955, although as late as 2004 eighteen of the animals were still kept at the Hospice for reasons of sentiment and tradition. In 2004, the breeding of the dogs was undertaken by the Barry foundation at Martigny, and the remaining St Bernards were transferred there from the Hospice. They remain a tourist attraction, and a number of the animals are temporarily relocated from Martigny to the Hospice during the summer months.
In June 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered a monumental tomb to be built at the Hospice for Louis Desaix (killed at the Battle of Marengo), even though Desaix had not crossed the Alps with the armée de réserve. His body rested at Milan from 1800 to 1805, when it was buried at the hospice in the presence of Louis-Alexandre Berthier representing the emperor. A commemorative monument set up there in a chapel was moved in 1829, so that Desaix now lies anonymous under an altar dedicated to Saint Faustina.References:
Château de Falaise is best known as a castle, where William the Conqueror, the son of Duke Robert of Normandy, was born in about 1028. William went on to conquer England and become king and possession of the castle descended through his heirs until the 13th century when it was captured by King Philip II of France. Possession of the castle changed hands several times during the Hundred Years' War. The castle was deserted during the 17th century. Since 1840 it has been protected as a monument historique.
The castle (12th–13th century), which overlooks the town from a high crag, was formerly the seat of the Dukes of Normandy. The construction was started on the site of an earlier castle in 1123 by Henry I of England, with the 'large keep' (grand donjon). Later was added the 'small keep' (petit donjon). The tower built in the first quarter of the 12th century contained a hall, chapel, and a room for the lord, but no small rooms for a complicated household arrangement; in this way, it was similar to towers at Corfe, Norwich, and Portchester, all in England. In 1202 Arthur I, Duke of Brittany was King John of England's nephew, was imprisoned in Falaise castle's keep. According to contemporaneous chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall, John ordered two of his servants to mutilate the duke. Hugh de Burgh was in charge of guarding Arthur and refused to let him be mutilated, but to demoralise Arthur's supporters was to announce his death. The circumstances of Arthur's death are unclear, though he probably died in 1203.
In about 1207, after having conquered Normandy, Philip II Augustus ordered the building of a new cylindrical keep. It was later named the Talbot Tower (Tour Talbot) after the English commander responsible for its repair during the Hundred Years' War. It is a tall round tower, similar design to the towers built at Gisors and the medieval Louvre.Possession of the castle changed hands several times during the Hundred Years' War. The castle was deserted during the 17th century. Since 1840, Château de Falaise has been recognised as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
A programme of restoration was carried out between 1870 and 1874. The castle suffered due to bombardment during the Second World War in the battle for the Falaise pocket in 1944, but the three keeps were unscathed.