The English Church is an important part of Zermatt’s history and traditions. It is closely linked to the British visitors who were among the first to want to see and experience the Matterhorn.
For Zermatt, the English Church occupies an important role in the resort’s history. Consecrated in 1870, the church also represents the “golden age of alpinism”. During the pioneering days of tourism in Zermatt in the 19th century, English guests made up the greatest share of visitors by far.
Plans for a church and the first ascent of the Matterhorn
From 1862, Protestant Sunday services for English-speaking guests were held in the Hotel Monte Rosa and the Hotel Mont Cervin. The first plans for the building of an English church were drawn up in May 1865, and a donation list was prepared at the same time. The two hoteliers Alexander Seiler and Joseph Clemenz were the first to add their names to this list, although they were both Catholic: a reflection of their ecumenical and cosmopolitan views. The same year, on 14 July 1865, the British climber Edward Whymper completed the first ascent of the Matterhorn. Of the seven men who reached the summit, only three returned to the village. Four climbers, including Lord Francis Douglas, Douglas R. Hadow and the Reverend Charles Hudson, fell to their deaths on the descent.
The tragic end to the first ascent of the Matterhorn did nothing to impede the initiative to build the church, but actually strengthened it even more. The Marquis of Queensberry, head of the family of Lord Francis Douglas, and the relatives of Douglas R. Hadow immediately made large donations. The foundation stone for the English Church was laid on 29 June 1869, only five years after the start of the donation list. The first service took place one year later, on 29 June 1870.
Poignant memorial plaques
There are numerous plaques inside this historic church in memory of mountaineers who had particularly close links with Zermatt and its mountains. The remains of the Reverend Charles Hudson are buried under the main altar.
Pastoral care for Protestant guests in Zermatt is provided by the Intercontinental Church Society. The clerics, who originate from England, are changed every two weeks and play an important role to this day. The Alpine Club of Great Britain celebrated its 150th anniversary in Zermatt in 2007. Naturally, a ceremony was held in the English Church.
Blatten chapel stands on a small rise, on the “Blatten" – a rock ledge in the eponymous hamlet below Furi, at an altitude of 1,740 m. This chapel is one of the best known in Zermatt, and is clearly visible from the gondolas of the Matterhorn Express.
The baroque chapel with recessed choir was built in 1640. The entrance was originally located on the north side, where its outlines are still clearly visible. It was moved to the east side in 1704 and protected with a porch, a massive pillared arcade. When the French overran the village in 1798, the inhabitants of Blatten and Zum See are said to have hidden their modest weapons in the attic of this porch. The interior and exterior of the church were renovated in 1983, and the red paintwork was applied. Until the 20th century, the faithful continued to make pilgrimages to Blatten in two processions. The so-called “Long Procession”, with vespers not far from the chapel, led via Moos back to the village church.
Mary, Queen of the Rosary
The stone-vaulted chapel is dedicated to Mary, Queen of the Rosary. The small altarpiece from the early baroque period, a one-level retable, shows the Mother of God with a nimbus whose points end in stylised roses. The five angels’ heads correspond to the five laws and the fifteen roses to the secrets of the rosary.
The altar is crowned with a simple statue of St Joseph. The original Madonna is missing; it was replaced long ago by a plaster figure. The Zermatt priest Oswald Perren made the chapel a gift of its current Madonna from southern Italy. The Mother of God is carrying the Child Jesus on her arm. A sturdy choir grille protects the altar and the statue from theft and destruction, while the leaded glass windows let sun and light into the room. A simple Stations of the Cross without inscriptions decorates the chapel nave.
The municipality of Zermatt may have no Evangelical Reformed Church, but it does have an Evangelical Reformed Church community. Services take place in the Theosaal hall of the Catholic parish centre.
The chapel at Findeln is dedicated to St James, patron saint of pilgrims, and belongs to Zermatt’s older sanctuaries. The winged altarpiece is a piece of cultural heritage unmatched in the Upper Valais.
Findeln, probably the sunniest hamlet in the vicinity of Zermatt, must have had a chapel from early on. It stands at an altitude of about 2,100 m. The documented field name of “zer altu Kapällu” a little further up the slope indicates that this was the case. In the days when agriculture was still the main source of income, the inhabitants of Zermatt would make a pilgrimage to Findeln after longer periods of rain during the hay harvesting season to pray for sunshine, the last time being in 1954.
Today’s chapel in the lower part of Findeln, “ze Gasse”, was built in either 1691 or 1697 – the latter year is inscribed on the tuff arch that frames the entrance doors – as a simple block structure with a recessed choir. It is dedicated to St James the Elder. It first appears in records as a simple prayer house without an altar. During the visitation by the bishop in 1765, the order was given to renovate the prayer house, which had been almost totally destroyed by an earthquake, and to equip it with a suitable altar.
Unique cultural artefact
The baroque style conquered the Upper Valais in the 17th century, transforming the appearance of churches and chapels. The parish church, too, had to remove Gothic features. In 1772, presumably – the year can be found above the choir arch – the parish church’s altar to the Mother of God came to Findeln. This late-Gothic winged altarpiece from the beginning of the 16th century is a piece of artistic history unique in the Upper Valais. As a result, the chapel is listed in the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of Regional Significance.
This small prayer house stands in the hamlet of Furi, beside a small group of old buildings and surrounded by alpine pastures. In former times, mule drivers would stop here before they ventured south over the Theodul Pass.
The prayer house of Furi stands on the old mule trail from Zermatt over the Theodul Pass, some way outside the hamlet of Furi at an altitude of about 1,900 m. It was built in 1747 by three
brothers from the Furrer family. Their initials stood on the old choir grille: M.M.F., J.F. and P.J.F. It is a small baroque building, not officially a chapel, and normally masses may not be held
here. It is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, and the patron’s feast day is on the Friday before Holy Week. An impressive Pietà – Jesus being removed from the Cross – adorns the altar. The nimbus
and sword have since disappeared. Part of the old baldachin has been attached to the altar as the antependium (a textile hanging in front of or on the sides of an altar), and the choir is
protected by a wrought-iron choir grille.
The four beautiful coloured windows by Marion Cartier were given to the chapel during renovation in 1986. They show Mary at the prophesy of Simeon (choir), Mary on the flight into Egypt (nave), Mary meeting Jesus carrying the Cross (right of the doors) and John below the Cross (left of the doors). The ceilings and the doors are new, also from 1986.
Many inhabitants of Zermatt used to make a pilgrimage to the Mother of God at Furi in order to share their worries and cares with her.
The “Bernhard von Aosta” chapel on the Gornergrat is one of Zermatt’s most visited places of worship. Visitors from all over the world stop to light a candle and enjoy the soothing tranquillity of this mountain sanctuary.
After the Kulmhotel Gornergrat opened at the end of the 19th century, Sunday mass was read in the hotel’s dining room during the summer. The bishop expressed the wish for a chapel, and in 1950 construction took place. The chapel is owned by the municipality, and stands at an altitude of nearly 3,100 m.
Bernard, Maurice and Theodule
The chapel is a block structure with recessed choir, double-offset roof and bell tower as a roof turret over the entrance. It is dedicated to St Bernard. The exterior surface is rough, grey plasterwork, matching the environment. In fact, the chapel is easily overseen. It lies on the path between the hotel and the mountain railway station. Anyone taking the lift from the latter to the hotel could miss the chapel altogether.
The interior has a wooden ceiling and floor of stone slabs. The windows are without stained glass; a confessional box stands on the right of the entrance. The altarpiece consists of relief-style carved wooden figures: in the centre, St Bernard of Aosta; on the left, St Maurice (patron saint of Valais); and on the right, St Theodule. A crown of alpine flowers forms the culmination of the altarpiece. The tabernacle is decorated with grapevines; the altar table is made of stone slabs with a cross.
“Heilige Katharina von Alexandrien”. Z’mutt, Zmutt and Mutt are all names for this huddled hamlet, which is more than 500 years old. At its heart stands this small white chapel, well worth a visit on the leisurely walk from Zermatt to Zmutt.
The hamlet of Zmutt lies a short hour’s walk south-west of Zermatt at an altitude of 1,936 m. In the old dialect of Zermatt, a “Mutt” is a rounded summit on a rocky slope. In addition to the
“White House” from the year 1595, the hamlet has a rectangular baroque chapel with a recessed choir and a small bell tower over the entrance. It is dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, the
second patron saint of Valais, and is a place of calm that the shepherds of the region liked to visit for their prayers.
The year 1727 can be seen on the sun-burned entrance doors, and probably indicates the year of construction. The nave with its two windows to the south has a wooden ceiling, while the choir has a type of groined vault made of stone that ends in a circle.
The small baroque altar with the chapel saint has been kept simple, the title figure framed by two plain pillars without ornamentation. St Catherine is portrayed with a sword and a broken wheel, because the wheel broke during her execution. She is flanked by two female figures with the palm branch of martyrs. Since the attributes are missing, we can unfortunately no longer say which saints they represent. The pinnacle contains the mater dolorosa.
Depictions of the Stations of the Cross hang on the walls of the nave. The inscriptions are in a distinctive form of German; note the unusual style.
The church of St Mauritius in Zermatt is the focus of a vibrant community: the parish is one of the liveliest in the whole of the Upper Valais. Locals and visitors from all over the world attend Mass here.
The first historical record of the parish church of St Mauritius dates from 1285. It can be assumed that back then it was a small and modest place of worship. Over the following centuries, the church was enlarged and renovated several times. The predecessor of the current parish church was probably built in 1587 in the so-called Italian style. Originally the parish church had three Gothic altars. Following the custom at the time, these were replaced by baroque altars in the 18th century. On the south side of the church were the cemetery and the charnel house from 1651.
The new church from 1913
Initially the people of Zermatt did not want a new church at all. But a local vote on 13 November 1910 paved the way for an ambitious new scheme. The architect Adolf Gaudy from Rorschach drew up plans, and on 6 June 1916, Monsignor Joseph Mariétan, Bishop of Bethlehem and Abbot of St. Maurice, consecrated the new church. Ever since, the parish has celebrated the anniversary of the inauguration of the church on the first Sunday in May. The church was painted in 1920, and the clock installed in the tower in 1925. Inauguration of the big organ in 1926 and three new bells in 1932 marked the end of construction. Today’s church stands further east than its predecessors.
Complete renovation in 1980
To celebrate the 700th anniversary of the parish in 1980, the parish priest, Eduard Imhof, undertook a complete renovation of the church. Changes to the interior included removing confessionals and double benches from the aisles, taking away the pulpit, adding a celebration altar, replacing the Stations of the Cross and converting the baptismal chapel into a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The ceilings of the choir and vaulted nave were also painted. The painting on the ceiling in the centre of the nave, “Noah’s ark”, is by the artist Paolo Parente from Florence and also dates from 1980.
The church of St Mauritius is listed in the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of Regional Significance because of its altars and baptismal font.
This elegant chapel stands alone, a little way from the Riffelalp Resort hotel, high above Zermatt at 2,222 m. The private chapel of the Seiler family of hoteliers welcomes visitors to mass on Saturdays during the summer.
The chapel at Riffelalp was built by Alexander Seiler and his wife Catharine Seiler-Cathrein in 1886, and was dedicated on 3 July 1887. It is still in the private ownership of the Seiler family and is only partly accessible. This rather handsome house of God with its recessed choir, small bell tower and small canopy over the entrance is whitewashed, and is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Two commemorative plaques honouring the founders with dedications in French are attached to the exterior wall left and right of the entrance doors. The chapel has various neo-Gothic features such as the altar, the pointed arched windows and the choir arch.
Still the chapel of the Seiler hotelier family
The main figure on the altar, a Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, is flanked by statues of the Mother of God and (presumably) St Rita. Two stained-glass windows showing the Mother of God and St Joseph allow light into the choir. The windows in the nave are made of clear glass. Decorations and commemorative plaques for various members of the Seiler family adorn the walls.
This peaceful place of worship stands on a mound facing the Matterhorn at an altitude of 2,590 m. The view from the “Bruder Klaus” chapel at Riffelberg of the Matterhorn and the valley below is unforgettable. The chapel’s profile echoes that of the Weisshorn across the valley.
The chapel was consecrated in August 1961 by Arthur Elchinger, Bishop of Strasbourg. It is owned by the municipality. The patron saint is St Nicholas of Flüe, also known as Brother Klaus, one of Switzerland’s patron saints. The plans were drawn up by the architect Ferdinand Pfammatter. The profile of the building corresponds almost exactly to that of the Weisshorn, the pyramid-shaped 4,000-metre peak on the other side of the valley.
A modern spirit
The modern building is decidedly different from the baroque chapels in the various hamlets around the village. Natural stone walls are interrupted by glass windows; the roof is extended towards the front and protects the entrance. A small bell hangs in the tower, which is shaped like a pointed triangle. The interior is bright, thanks to the large windows; natural stone walls alternate with wood panelling. A statue of St Nicholas stands on the right-hand side. The altar is made of sandstone, with a wrought-iron tabernacle and the symbols of the Eucharist in enamel and a cross of rock crystal.
Painting from Barcelona
In 1964, Hans Schäffer, owner of the world-famous gallery in New York, donated a magnificent altarpiece, a painting made in Barcelona around 1400. It is very likely that it was originally part of a winged altarpiece from a Catalan church. It portrays the Mother of God on a rectangular throne with the infant Jesus on her arm. On each side there are four angels singing and playing music. The whole picture is completed with leaf-like ornamental shapes and a Gothic pointed arch.
The “Maria zum Schnee” chapel near the Schwarzsee gondola station is a gem. It stands on the shore of the Schwarzsee (2,552 m), whose clear dark waters beautifully reflect the chapel when the air is still.
According to legend, a statue of the Mother of God stood at this place even before the “Maria zum Schnee” chapel was built. The small chapel goes back to a promise made by two inhabitants of
Zermatt who had become hopelessly lost in thick fog on the Theodul Glacier. They were saved, and subsequently erected a prayer house at the location of the wayside shrine. It is thought that the
chapel was built in the early-18th century.
The chapel, dedicated to “Maria zum Schnee” (Our Lady of the Snows), soon became a popular place of pilgrimage. On the patron saint’s feast day on 5 August, locals and visitors flock to Schwarzsee to celebrate mass in the open air. Early documents state that the inhabitants of Zermatt would visit the Mother of God in a procession in early summer to pray for rain in times of drought. Unhappy wives also sought consolation and help in prayer before the image of the Mother of God.
A popular place of pilgrimage to this day
Walkers and locals often call in to the small chapel for a moment of peace and to light a candle. The celebrations on the patron saint’s feast day on 5 August are highly popular.
“Zermatter Sagen und Legenden”, by Karl Lehner, published by Verlag Zap, Brig, new edition 1982, no ISBN number
Winkelmatten chapel, “Zur Heiligen Familie”, is a gem, located at the end of the village in the Winkelmatten quarter. Many couples choose this chapel for their marriage.
Built in 1607, the chapel is a smaller-scale copy of the old village church and probably late reparation by the people of Zermatt to the residents of Winkelmatten. The story goes that the hamlet of Winkelmatten was almost given the honour of hosting the parish church. But things worked out differently: the crafty people of Zermatt are said to have moved the tools that were already standing on the construction site into the village during the night and, the next day, told the nonplussed inhabitants of Winkelmatten that this must be a supernatural sign and an expression of divine will.
The showpiece of the chapel is the baroque altar, carved from Swiss stone pine by Anton Sigristen in 1730. The Holy Family stands in the centre of the retable. A shell opens above each of the statues of Joseph and Mary; above the Child Jesus are angel heads and a crown, from which a graceful Madonna emerges. Two twisted pillars wreathed with acanthus garlands form a frame for the Holy Family on both sides. The pinnacle of the richly gilded altar consists of clouds, rays of light and ornaments. Two angels open the curtains of a baldachin, revealing the Holy Spirit as a dove with nimbus and the round window behind.
Ancient custom for young couples
An old custom has made this chapel into a popular place of pilgrimage for young couples. For Carnival, the young men of Zermatt would each seek out a young woman with whom to dance and celebrate the “old Carnival”. If they went to Winkelmatten together on the feast day of St Joseph, their mutual obligations were over. But those who walked to Winkelmatten together once again on Easter Sunday were considered to be all but married.
“Zermatter Sagen und Legenden”, by Karl Lehner, 1982, available from the ZAP bookshop in Zermatt.
The chapel of Zum See, the newest of Zermatt’s chapels, is dedicated to St Barbara. The small chapel is located by the hamlet of Zum See, whose name means “by the lake” – but there is no lake here, just lush alpine pastures and small patches of forest.
The hamlet of Zum See, at about 1,750 m, has been inhabited for around eight months a year since time immemorial, yet it was the only hamlet that had no chapel. Its inhabitants had long wanted to erect a house of God here; in 1962, the residents declared themselves ready to make their assistance and their funds available. Construction began in 1963; the chapel was consecrated on 5 July 1964, and donated to the parish of Zermatt free of debt by the working group.
St Barbara protects the faithful from storms
The chapel is dedicated to St Barbara, said to protect the faithful from storms and sudden death. It is a block structure in the style of chapels from the 17th/18th centuries, with a recessed, somewhat extended choir. The chapel was built to a design by the Basel architect Hermann Dietrich.
The stained-glass windows are by the Valais artist Paul Monnier: the Virgin Mary, St Catharine and St Rita are depicted in yellow-red-brown tones on the left side, and St Joseph, St Wendelin and St Augustine in blue-green colours on the right. A simple granite table serves as the altar. A painting of the chapel’s patron saint hangs from the back wall. Two wrought-iron grilles separate the choir from the sacristy behind.