40 year ban on erecting Crosses at the top of mountains. Now calls to remove them. Bishops silent (again!)

The Shepherd Dog reflects on the debate to remove summit crosses in the Alps. The well-known extreme mountaineer Reinhold Messner has also spoken out on the subject.

Finally, we have a summer topic. A new cross-border cross debate. A real culture war. With everything that goes with it: politicians talking themselves into a frenzy and B-list celebrities providing entertaining quotes for the "Bild". In fact, the origins of the new cross debate lie in the dark. Allegedly, according to media reports, the Italian Alpine association Club Alpino Italiano has demanded that the summit crosses in the Alps be removed. Out of respect for other cultures and religions. Even though the club later denied ever having demanded such a thing, a debate got underway. Even Minister Matteo Salvini expressed his usual sensitivity about this "nonsense without heart and without reason". And when universal yeti Reinhold Messner also spoke out, there was no stopping the media horse. No more new crosses, but replace rotten ones, because "on the whole, it's enough", grumbled the forest rascal in Bild.

So far, so amusing. But when the Austrian Alpine Association showed sympathy for the alleged Italian initiative and referred to the 40-year-old resolution that crosses on summits should be preserved as cultural assets, but that no new ones should be added and that religion was actually irrelevant to the whole thing anyway, the Tyrolean ÖVP - which regards the sacred Tyrolean mountains as its own property - burst its narrow collar. Christoph Walser, President of the Chamber of Commerce, spoke of an "attack on Tyrolean culture", summit crosses were "part of our Christian tradition and our alpine culture" and "it is no longer possible to imagine our alpine landscape without them", Norbert Totschnig, the Minister of Agriculture, who is not entirely distant from the ÖVP, added. So there we have it: this unfortunate, ideologically overloaded mixture of religion, nature, culture and alleged identity that rarely has anything to do with reality. Like the whole ghost debate. I would like to see a little more serenity and humour. Not only crosses and cairns on the summits, but please also as a quasi-universal religious symbol: Mobile phone charging stations.

Our Bishops, by the way, are wisely keeping a low profile. So far, not a word has passed their consecrated lips. Presumably because they are on a mountain tour or celebrating a mountain mass somewhere.


Friedrich Macher, Chairman of the "Alpenverein Austria", the founding section in the Austrian Alpine Association, on the multi-layered significance of the crosses on our domestic mountain peaks.

What is the significance of the summit crosses on our mountains?

FRIEDRICH MACHER: First of all, a very concrete geographical one. When you reach the summit cross, you have reached the highest point on a mountain, which is not always so clear on many mountain peaks. Often this also has an essential alpinistic function, namely the summit book mounted on the cross. The respective entry about the planned further intended route can be necessary and life-saving as an indicator for the mountain rescue. The individual significance for the individual hiker or climber is naturally subjective. But I have never seen people standing in front of a summit cross who have not spent at least a few contemplative moments reflecting on the sublimity of this testimony of faith at this special place.

Since when have there been summit crosses in Austria?

About half a century after the development of alpinism - which only began on a broad basis in 1862 with the founding of the Austrian Alpine Association (ÖAV) - had already created huts and paths to facilitate travel in the Alps. This is a founding mission of the Austrian Alpine Association. However, crosses and wayside shrines in valleys all the way up to alpine pastures have been around for several centuries longer.

Who looks after these summit crosses?

As a rule, clubs and traditional associations in the valley villages. The Alpine Club is usually hardly involved, but is available to provide complementary and benevolent support when needed. This is also proven by the practice in the "Alpenverein Austria", which I lead. In our working areas (more than ten per cent of the PES) there are 79 summit crosses; only one of them was rebuilt by us after vandalism and weather damage. However, and this is remarkable: in the standard literature on the cultural history of the Austrian Alpine Association - I am thinking of the two-volume publication "Hoch hinaus! Wege und Hütten in den Alpen" and the ÖAV's history of ideas: "Alpenverein. Die Städter entdecken die Alpen" and also the high-quality yearbooks - summit crosses are virtually absent, although chapels and devotional rooms, for example, are documented in detail.

What does a summit cross mean to you personally?

"Many paths lead to God. One goes over the mountains": There is no better way to put it than Tyrolean mountaineer Bishop Reinhold Stecher. Throughout his life, the strong and successful mountaineer Reinhold Stecher had a very special relationship with the mountains.

Does the tradition of summit crosses also exist on other mountains in the surrounding Alpine countries?

Yes, almost universally in all Alpine states. However, other symbols occasionally appear. Two stand out in my memory. One is a poignant depiction of the Madonna at the summit of one of my most difficult mountain tours - the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey, a 3,773-metre-high mountain in Italy in the Mont Blanc region. On the other hand, a chime after an extreme climb over the south ridge of the Guglia di Brenta in the Dolomites, 2,883 metres high, which announced with buzzing and whirring a thunderstorm that was to come shortly afterwards. Generally speaking, the often-publicised figure of around 4,000 summit crosses in the Alps is realistic and comprehensible from my personal experience and perception. However, I am not aware of any documentation of this.