Once upon a time there was an Irish monk named Gallus who was wandering carelessly through the valley of the River Steinach when he fell into a bramble bush. Now some people might find such an accident irritating but, as Swiss psychologist Carl Jung would say many years later, "it all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves....".
Gallus chose to view the event in a positive light. "It is a sign from God!" he declared excitedly as he unhooked himself from the prickly brambles and decided to build a hermitage on that very spot. According to legend he then befriended a bear who brought wood to feed the fire he kindled in the forest, and a bear is still evident in the coat of arms of the City of St Gallen which this week plays host to the third leg of the 2007 Samsung Super league with FEI series.
Whatever about the myths, a monk called St Gall was born in Ireland in 550AD and was one of twelve who travelled Europe spreading Christianity in the company of St Columbanus. Gallus stayed behind due to illness when the group passed through Bregenz on the shores of Lake Constance and was nursed back to health in nearby Arbon where he died a very old man in 646. After his death a small church was erected and this expanded into the Abbey of St Gall which played an illustrious role in Catholic and intellectual history until it was secularised in 1798.
St Gallen today has a population of approximately 70,000 people and is eastern Switzerland's largest city. It lies between Lake Constance and the mountains of Alpstein and was an important centre for textile production during the 15th century. It earned a superb reputation for its production of beautiful embroidery and although that traditional export suffered greatly in the years following World War 1, embroiderery from the St Gallen region is still in great demand by the creators of Paris Haute Couture. Hermes, the god for trade, stands atop the splendid Embroidery Exchange building in the city and while the embroidery industry is now almost entirely computerised, St Gallen's continuing trade relies on some 2,000 local women who work from home on fine hand-sewn detailing that could not be reproduced by machine.
The city, which is only a 30-minute train-ride from the economic hub of Zurich, also has a number of other claims to fame. It boasts the oldest public bath in Switzerland dating back to 1908, and the oldest brewery in Switzerland called Schutzengarten but the main tourist attraction is the extraordinarily lavish Baroque Abbey of St Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the famous library contains ancient books and manuscripts dating back to the 9th century. You are obliged to wear fluffy slippers when visiting here in order to protect the floor and as a result visitors can often be seen stumbling about as clumsily as that old Irish monk as they try to keep their feet.....
Riders competing in St Gallen's show jumping arena this week may take the time to enjoy some of the city's many places of interest but on Friday afternoon as the third leg of the Samsung Super League with FEI series gets underway all minds will be firmly fixed on the battle between the eight top show jumping nations in the world. With just five further legs to complete those at the bottom of the league leaderboard are coming under increasing pressure - for them slipping up is simply no longer an option....
SOME SWISS FACTS AND FIGURES.....
The capital city of Switzerland is Bern
The population is approx. 7.5 million
Switzerland is a Federal State of 26 cantons (regions).
There are four official languages - German (71%), French (21%), Italian (4%) and Rumantsch (1%) - the latter, like French and Italian derived from Latin, is spoken in a range of dialects.
CH - stands for Confoederatia Helvetica which is Switzerland's official Latin name.
In Switzerland women only got the right to vote at national level in 1971 and the last canton was forced to introduce it at canton and communal level as late as 1990
The Swiss Franc is probably the most stable currency in the world
Swiss tennis player, Roger Federer, has dominated his sport for many years
The Matterhorn is the most famous peak in the Swiss Alps
High quality, precision and a tendency for perfectionism are considered typically Swiss
Yodelling is an unnerving combination of singing and shouting that involves using the "head voice" and "chest voice" resulting in violent alterations from low to high pitch - possibly emanated from people calling to each other from mountain-tops but unlikely to appeal to those with a more musical ear....