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The Mass on the Hungerli AlpFor quite a long time a priest in the valley below the Hungerli Alp had noticed that a family of cowherders never came to mass. Their hut lay deep within the valley and the family would have had to walk many hours to reach the church. But in the Wallis region of Switzerland, this was not unusual. In fernyear the cowherders were accustomed to walking even longer distances and never came late to mass. The priest would have been satisfied if the family on the Hungerli Alp appeared only once or twice a year, but he could not understand why they never came. He waited until the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (August 15) and celebrated early morning mass instead of high mass. When once again the family did not appear, he reached for his walking stick and climbed the mountain to find the family and settle the matter once and for all. The question needled him and he wanted to find the reason of their absence.
When he reached the family’s brown wooden hut, he found only the children at home. He asked them where their parents were. They replied: “At mass,” and pointed up the steep mountain to a grove. The priest looked round in surprise and asked “What, a mass here?” he cried out in some confusion. “There is neither church nor chapel up here!” The children stared blankly at the priest. Regarding him from head to toe, they did not know how to reply. The oldest jumped up, fetched a bowl of milk; brought bread and cheese and offered the priest the traditional meal. The priest sat down on the grass and refreshed himself with the simple meal, waiting for the parents. After some time they both appeared, dressed in their Sunday’s best. The man wore a freshly washed shirt; the wife had a new headscarf. They greeted the priest heartily and said how happy they were that he was honoring them with a visit. “Yes,” the priest replied as his face tightened with concern, “and why do you never come to church and why do you live a heathen life style up here?”
“Your Holiness, we are just coming from mass,” the cowherder replied, “and what I have up here I don’t need to look for below in the valley; it’s a long way and what is more, the path is difficult!”
The priest shook his head in response to these strange people and said not a word. The wife prepared a meal and when they sat down at the table it seemed to the priest that the plates were small and only half full. But it was also quite strange and inexplicable to him that he started to eat with enormous appetite, but like the rest, his plate never emptied and everyone left the table completely satisfied.
After dinner, the cowherder took the priest by the hand and said “So, Reverend, if you have time, I will now take you to mass.” The priest agreed and thought it would be a peculiar mass up there in the mountain wilderness. They walked through a bright green meadow and through a black fir forest, over which hung a snowy mountain peak. Finally they reached a small forest clearing, encircled by the most beautiful larch trees where the birds sang sweetly. Above the field the blue vault of heaven soared. In the middle of the grove was a large, flat stone with a recess that was hand-deep and filled with water.
“Look, do you see the hole in the middle of the stone?” the cowherder asked. “That is filled with holy water or consecrated water, as you like to say.” Around the stone bloomed many wild flowers: narcissus, rose-red cloves and many other colorful flowers. “So now, stand on your left foot and look at me over your right shoulder!” The priest followed his instructions.
“What do you see?”
“Heaven!” the priest called out enraptured and his eyes opened wide and drank in the brilliance of heaven in the greatest bliss.
“Now turn! – Turn yourself around!”
The priest did not respond, he was so taken aback with the heavenly image. Finally he stepped back and dropped his hands.
“So now, stand on your right foot and look over your left shoulder!” the cowherd continued.
The priest once more did was he was told.
“What do you see?”
“I see hell itself!” the priest called and his eyes grew large and the horrors of hell were reflected in his face.
The priest let his hands drop, folded them and his demeanor was quiet and subdued. Before he left the meadow, he dipped his fingertips in the heavenly water and made the sign of the cross, as if he were leaving church. Then he returned with the cowherd to the dark forest but on the return path he did not speak. The cowherd explained as they began their descent: “Every day I go to the clearing in the wood. An angel prepares the sacred mass and from him I receive Holy Communion!” The priest was perplexed that the lowly cowherd could see and understand things, which normally only a saint had the capacity to see. They continued on in silence.
When they reached the hut, the priest said farewell to the wife and children. He bowed respectfully and offered his hand in a friendly manner. The cowherd accompanied him a small distance through the valley. When they parted the priest said: “Yes, you are good Christians up there on the Hungerli Alp. I saw that today. Continue with your mass, you don’t need me!” And he shook the farmer’s hand and lost in thought, continued down the mountain.
Soon thereafter the priest left his office and traveled to Turtmanntal, where he lived as a hermit for eleven years.
Once, the people heard bells ringing in the middle of the night and knew something strange must have happened. In the morning, several men entered the Turtmanntal Valley where they found the priest dead in his hermitage.
To read a fairy tale about Saint Boniface/Saint Wilfried, click on the link: