advertisement

The mountain way station of St. Anton, St. Christoph (1,784m/5,853 ft.) is linked to the St. Anton terrain by a cableway at Galzig. It's on the road to the Arlberg Pass and has essentially the same ski facilities available as St. Anton, only here you're closer to the action.

A hospice was originally established here in 1386 by a now-legendary saintlike mountain man, Heinrich of Kempten, whose self-imposed duty was to bury the remains of pilgrims who froze to death in the treacherous snowdrifts of one of the world's most unpredictable and temperamental mountain passes.

Because the Arlberg was the single most important route for commerce between northern Italy and the Teutonic world throughout the Middle Ages, literally hundreds of pilgrims froze to death at the pass or died of hunger, exposure, or avalanches. Kempten single-handedly founded the Order of Saint Christopher, a church-related society and monastery that has evolved into one of the most beneficent monastic orders of Europe. The monastery has accumulated some famous artistic treasures, many donated by grateful merchants whose caravans were sheltered and saved.

Appropriately, the monastery was built on the uppermost heights of the frequently snowbound pass, on the Tyrolean side. The land the monastery was built on was so hostile that after the surrounding trees were felled for fuel, large carts were required to bring all the basic necessities into the community.

Throughout the Age of Enlightenment, the hospice continued to recruit new members, who would patrol the pass every morning and evening. The members searched for frozen bodies, assisted wayfarers in trouble, and provided desperately needed accommodations for the thousands of caravans carrying goods across the pass.

By the late 19th century, honorary membership in the Order of St. Christopher was granted to VIPs and charitably minded individuals around the world, frequently by request of the Austrian government. Today members are initiated with pomp, ceremony, and good humor, and include such personalities as King Juan Carlos of Spain, the village postman, and Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.

As roads, phone lines, and helicopter rescue teams made passage over the Arlberg less treacherous, the Arlberg Pass developed into one of the world's leading ski resorts. In the 1950s, the monastery, which had had difficulty recruiting new members, sold the complex to members of the Werner family. Under the guidance of the family patriarch, the monastery was brought into the 20th century with the addition of electricity and many of the era's creature comforts.

Tragically, only a few weeks after the completion of the improvements, a fire destroyed all but a portion of the ancient monastery. The fire provided the opportunity to rebuild the Arlberg Hospiz hotel.