BERNARD OF MENTHON: Founder of the hospices on the Great and Little St. Bernard. Little is known of his life, as modern criticism has hardly touched it, and the older biographies are untrustworthy and legendary. According to them he was born at Menthon, near Annecy 25 m. s. of Geneva), Savoy, in 923, and studied the liberal arts, law, and theology. To avoid a marriage planned by his parents, he fled to Aosta, where he was ordained and later became archdeacon. In addition to the most faithful performance of his priestly duties, he founded the two hospices and placed them in charge of canons regular, finally dying at Novara in 1007. A sequence preserved in the Acta Sanctorum, and dating probably from the end of the eleventh or beginning of the twelfth century, speaks of a meeting between him and Henry IV, which may possibly have occurred.
It is known that in the ninth century there was a hospice under clerical auspices on the Mons Jovis, the present Great St. Bernard, which may later have fallen into decay. First in 1125, and often after that date, we find mention of the church of St. Nicholas on the Mons Jovis; in 1145 of the hospitale, which in 1177 is called domus hospitalis SS. Nicolai et Bernardi Montis Jovis. It is thus not improbable that Bernard restored the older foundation; but it is more likely that this took place at the beginning of the twelfth than at the end of the eleventh century. The date of 1081 for Bernards death is no better attested than that of 1007. Innocent XI canonized him in 1681. The larger hospice, on which till 1752 the smaller depended, was reformed during the Council of Basel, receiving a very original constitution in 1438. Napoleon, pleased by his reception there, placed the hospice founded by him on the Simplon pass under the care of the same community, and endowed the foundation, which had lost a great part of the rich possessions formerly held by it in fourteen dioceses. It is now supported by voluntary offerings from all the Swiss cantons. A statue of Bernard was erected near the hospice in 1905.