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Churches and Chapels in Zermatt Part 7

Riffelberg chapel or Bruder Kaus is a peaceful place of worship that stands on a mound facing the Matterhorn at an altitude of 2590 meters. The view from the “Buder Klaus” chapel at Riffelberg of the Matterhorn and the valley below is unforgettable. The chapel’s profile echoes that of the Weisshorn across the valley. The chapel was consecrated in August 1961 by Arthur Elchinger, Bishop of Strasbourg. It is owned by the municipality. The patron saint is St.Nicholas of Flue, also known as Brother Klaus, one of Switzerland’s patron saints. The plans were drawn up by the architect Ferdinand Pfammatter. The profile of the building corresponds almost exactly to that of the Weisshorn, the pyramid shaped 4000 meter peak on the other side of the valley.

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The modern building is decidedly different from the baroque chapels in the various hamlets around the village. Natural stone walls are interrupted by glass windows where the roof is extended towards the front and protects the entrance. A small bell hangs in the tower, which is shaped like a pointed triangle. The interior is bright, thanks to the large windows with natural stone walls alternate with wood paneling. A statue of St.Nicholas stands on the right hand side. The altar is made of sandstone, with a wrought iron tabernacle and the symbols of the Qucharist in enamel and a cross of rock crystal. In 1964, Hans Schaffer, owner of the world famous gallery in New York, donated a magnificent altarpiece, a painting made in Barcelona around 1400. It is a very likely that it was originally part of a winged altarpiece from a Catalan church. It portrays the Mother of God on a rectangular throne with the infant Jesus on her arms. On each side there are four angels singing and playing music. The whole picture is completed with leaf like ornamental shapes and a Gothic pointed arch. This church is very popular for weddings with beautiful alpine pastures in summer.

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Schwarzsee chapel or Maria zum Schnee is near the Schwarzsee gondola station. It stands on the shore of the Schwarzsee at 2552 meters whose clear dark waters beautifully reflect the chapel when the air is still. According to legend, a statue of the Mother of God stood at this place even before the “Maria zum Schnee” chapel was built. The small chapel goes back to a promise made by two inhabitants of Zermatt who had become hopelessly lost in thick fog on the Theodul Glacier. They were saved, and subsequently erected a prayer house at the location of the wayside shrine. It is thought that the chapel was build in the early 18th century. The chapel, dedicated to “Maria zum Schnee” or “Our Lady of the Snows”, soon became a popular place of pilgrimage. On the patron saint’s feast day on August 5th, locals and visitors flock to Schwarzsee to celebrate mass in the open air. Early documents state that the inhabitants of Zermatt would visit the Mother of God in a procession in early summer to pray for rain in times of drought. Unhappy wives also sought consolation and help in prayer before the image of the Mother of God. Walkers and locals often call in to the small chapel for moment of peace and to light a candle. The celebrations on the patron’s feast day on August 5th are highly popular. This chapel is an excellent place to visit during summer since it is closed in winter. Also since it is right next to the lake, it is a wonderful place to go with family. Many mountaineers who have successfully climbed the Matterhorn often stop at the chapel to give thanks.