Faith-based groups visiting Switzerland are treated to a real eye-opener, and that’s because this small country, about the size of West Virginia, is big on views, whether it’s views of the snow-capped peaks of the Alps, views of a towering cathedral or a glimpse of a rushing mountain stream from a swift Swiss train.
Clean air, numerous natural attractions and a genuine welcoming attitude combine to produce an ideal setting for groups wanting to combine their faith-based travel itineraries with spectacular scenery, a relaxing time on a chartered lake steamer or taking in the many excellent shopping opportunities this country offers.
Most groups, especially those arriving by air, will begin their tour in Zurich, a cosmopolitan city with more than 50 museums and 100 galleries, short distances and stunning views. From the nearby summit of Uetliberg, reached by a modern mountain railroad, visitors enjoy a panoramic overview of the city and glistening Lake Zurich. During warm weather, it’s great to take the train up and hike to the bottom, enjoying the views all the way down.
Also from Uetliberg you can see the imposing 1100-era Romanesque Grossmunster Church with its Charles Tower; the church is where the Swiss-German Reformation began, led by Huldrych Zwingli and Heinrich Bullinger. There are spiritual nighttime group tours available as well. The view at night from atop the church tower is said to be spectacular.
A fast, smooth train ride through the mountains from the Hauptbahnhof in Zurich to Lucerne’s train station next to Lake Lucerne takes 45 minutes and will open up splendid vistas for your group to enjoy. Trains on this route often feature double decker cars with large windows.
The Lucerne train station is located in the heart of Lucerne, the centerpiece of the Lake Lucerne recreational area, with exceptional mountains (Mt. Pilatus, Mt. Rigi and Mt. Titlis). Mountain railroads and lake steamers all provide outstanding views of the countryside.
Through Dec. 14, 2014 you can book a four- or eight-day Swiss Peak Pass with Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com). It allows free access to eight Swiss peaks, including Mt. Stanserhorn (near Stans), which features the world’s first open- top, convertible cable car.
Lucerne traces its roots to St. Leodegar monastery, a small 8th century Benedictine cloister; over the centuries a community grew along the Reuss River from the monastery to a nearby settlement. Historians regard Lucerne’s birth date to be 1178, when the parish was officially transferred from the monastery to the city. Middle Age fortifications, such as the famous Chapel Bridge in downtown Lucerne are timeless witnesses of the city’s growth.
Lucerne has many faith-based points of interest besides the Court Church of St. Leodegar, whose interior features gilt statuaries and altars. They include:
- Franciscan Church. Evidence of this church’s long history is seen in its numerous architectural styles. The church’s 13th century portions are built in Gothic style; Renaissance and Baroque styles follow as the walls rise. The Franciscan church’s wooden carved pulpit dates from the early 15th century.
- Jesuit Church. Lured to Lucerne by Mayor Ludwig Pfyffer, the Jesuits brought the Counter Reformation to Lucerne in the 17th century; the elaborate Jesuitenkirche, dedicated to Francis Xavier, was constructed in 1666. Architects from Italy and Austria built what many believe to be the most beautiful Baroque church in Switzerland.
- St. Peter’s Chapel. The Kapellplatz surrounds tiny St. Peterskapelle, an 18th century church built over a 12th century predecessor. This chapel also lends its name to the Kapellbrücke, the charming wooden bridge synonymous with Lucerne.
- St. Matthew Church. This is the first Protestant church in Lucerne, built in 1848 in a neo-Gothic style. The famous composer Richard Wagner was married to Cosima von Bülow in 1870 in this church.
LAKE LUCERNE REGION
- Flüeli-Ranft. Found on the Way of Saint James and the birthplace of peacemaker Nicholas von Flüe, Flüeli-Ranft radiates vibes that are intense, magical and serene. Known as Brother Klaus von Flüe, lived in the 15th century as a hermit. Canonized in 1947, he is Switzerland’s national saint and the patron of numerous churches. Flüeli-Ranft is the perfect place for groups to visit, and a variety of accommodations are available, including the group-friendly Hotel Pax Montana.
- Einsiedeln Abbey. The town of Einsiedeln, famous for its Baroque abbey, is another important location on the Way of St. James. During the Middle Ages, Einsiedeln was considered the first gathering point for pilgrims traveling toward Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Many pilgrims drink from The Lady Fountain, located in the center of the square.In 2017, with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, many faith-based groups will be planning special pilgrimages to Switzerland, a country with something to offer all Christian groups. Main point of interest will be Zürich where the Swiss German reformation started through Ulrich Zwingli, and Geneva (reformer John Calvin) or the Anabaptist train and sights in the Swiss Jura, and many more.
–By Don Heimburger