In about 1050, Bernard of Menthon, Archdeacon of Aosta, founded the monastery, known as the Hospice du Grand Saint Bernard, as a place of refuge for travelers and pilgrims crossing the Alps between Italy and Switzerland.
There, large mountain dogs have been kept since the middle of the 17th century, for guarding and protection. The existence of such dogs has been documented pictorially since 1695 and in a written document at the hospice in the year 1707. The dogs were soon in use as companion dogs and especially as rescue dogs for travelers lost in snow and fog. The chronicles about the numerous human lives saved by these dogs, and the verbal reports of the soldiers who crossed the pass with Napoleon’s army in the 1800, spread the fame of the Saint Bernard throughout Europe during the 19th century.
On 13th July 1905 a statue of Saint Bernard was unveiled. The pedestal of the monument bears an inscription recalling that Pope Pie 1X in 1923 designated Saint Bernard as the protector of the Alps and mountaineers.
Barry, the famous Saint Bernard worked as a mountain rescue dog at the Great St Bernard Pass in Switzerland. He has been described as the most famous St. Bernard, as he was credited with saving more than 40 lives during his lifetime. Barry retired to ‘Bern, Switzerland and died at the age of 12 in 1814. He was preserved and can be viewed in the of the Natural History Museum on Bern.
It is the tradition at the hospice that the main dog be named Barry in his honour.
The original Saint Bernard or “BARRY DOG”as they were first know as was a short coated dog.
Very bad winters from 1816 to 1818 led to a large number of avalanches, killing many of the dogs used for breeding while they were performing rescues. In an attempt to increase the breeding stock and improve the health and well being of the dogs on the pass, the monks crossed the then short coat Barry dog with a Newfoundland type dog. The new long hair variety which came from these mating’s could not work in the snow, as the snow froze in the long hair and weighed them down. As a result the monks gave these long coat puppies away as Gifts to visitors who came through the pass and only keept the SHORT coat as working rescue dogs.
Since 2004 the Foundation Barry has take over from the monks and is responsible for breeding Saint Bernard dogs at the Hospice du Grand St Bernard.