Today has been such a beautiful day that I should probably just let the pictures do the talking, but that goes against the nature of a preacher. I must tell you a little about it.
To be honest, it began gloomy enough–overcast skies and freezing temperatures. That’s how it looked when we took the two hour walking tour through the old city of Lucerne. It is a beautiful city in a magnificent setting with its lake and its mountains, but usually seen in the late spring and early summer, decked in all the colors of its beautiful flowers, buildings, and mountain glory. Though our tour leader gave us good information, our walking tour certainly did not have the charm and beauty you normally see on the postcards and travel posters that excite people to come to Lucerne.
We left the hotel around 9:30, dressed in as many layers as we could find. Our guide, chattering away in very clear English, expressed from the beginning her love for this beautiful city. We stopped almost immediately by the new concert hall with a pouring fountain and a reflecting pool where the water seemed almost to flow into the building itself. It was designed by a French architect and has already become a place of pride for a city possessing many fine buildings already. While standing in front of the pool, she pointed out all the famous, old five-star hotels that surround the lake, where celebrities and dignitaries from around the world have vacationed for years.
She also pointed out the famous wooden bridge that has been associated with Lucerne for centuries, the bridge that partially burned a few years ago, but was rebuilt by the city in exactly the same design as before. Indeed, from what we could see from a distance, it seemed to be the same bridge! She also pointed out several beautiful churches, all of which are Roman Catholic. Lucerne, unlike Zurich, remained Roman Catholic during the reformation, like many other more conservative communities in the middle of the country. Today Switzerland is still 40% Roman Catholic and 30% Protestant.
From there, we made or way into the old city itself, crossing over the famous covered wooden bridge. We could see the damage done by the fire and feel the great loss that it must have been to the citizens of Lucerne. Since medieval times, the bridge had contained beautiful paintings across the top of the covered bridge that depicted scenes from the city’s history, legends and folk tales–the bridge had been a kind of visual representation of the culture, beliefs, and common history of the town. You might compare it to the tales that ancient people told from generation to generation, as they passed down their shared history and culture. The bridge and the colorful images found there was like the cultural DNA of the town, and to lose part of that must be like an individual experiencing dementia. Several of the paintings were not burned, and fortunately, others had been taken down for some needed restoration, so when the bridge was rebuilt, they were restored to their rightful place. As a visitor to that city, I felt somewhat hurt and deprived as I walked over the rebuilt part of the bridge and saw the blank places where the old paintings would have been displayed.
From there we walked through the old city and looked at the colorful frescoes on many buildings there, which like the bridge, tell so much of the town’s culture and history. There were city squares with decorated fountains running with pure water–squares where farmers once brought their goods, members of various trade unions gathered, and where the communities held celebrations. There was one where wheat had once been sold, another where a riotous carnival was held on Shrove Tuesday not unlike our Mardi Gras, and a third where elaborate passion plays similar to the one still held in Oberammergau were produced. The frescoes still remain on the walls of the buildings in these squares depicting these traditions, even though some of the celebrations have not been held for decades.
From the old city, we made a stop at the Jesuit church that stands at the beginning of the wooden bridge and on the very edge of the old city and is crowned by two onion domes. The Jesuits were sent to Lucerne to counter the effects of the reformation in that era. The church is beautifully done inside with white walls, beautiful pictures, and gold inlaid alter and pulpit. It seems still to represent very well the polarities between the two faiths, the catholic faith represented in beautiful statues, paintings, elaborate vestments, and richly decorated altar pieces, and the very stark, almost dull churches of the reformation that regarded such trappings as idolatry while glorifying Scripture itself almost to the point of idolatry.
From there, we left our helpful guide for a two and half hour break so we could warm ourselves from the cold, get some lunch, and prepare ourselves for the afternoon excursion to 7,000 foot Mount Pilatus. I’ll admit, due to the gloomy weather in the morning, I was not looking forward to the mountain trip. What would we see with the mountains covered with thick clouds? To our great delight, the weather began to clear as we ascended the mountain, as if the glorious light of the Easter morning had frightened away the gloom of darkness. The trip to the mountain was absolutely beautiful as I hope you can see from the pictures I share.
Before I go, just a word about the mountain itself, of which several local legends exist. Seen as we have seen it, clothed in the gloom and darkness of clouds, one can imagine how such legends have grown. One says that the mountain was given its name because Pilate is buried there, making it an evil place for one to visit. Another legend says that a huge dragon lives on the mountain, one that was seen by a farmer in the area. For many years, people were forbidden by the church to climb the mountain until several priests ventured up there, performed a rite of purification, and declared it safe. Safe or not, we found it covered with snow and beautiful in the sunlight which shown through the afternoon clouds to light various peaks in the distance in glory and grandeur. The city that met us with the misery of cold, pouring rain, now sends us away with the marvel and joy of its beauty and grandeur. One can easily recognize why it is a favorite European city to be visited.