Within the last few months, a mysterious vandal has attacked three summit crosses in the Bavarian Alps, chopping and sawing two of them to the ground. As the “summit cross axeman” has yet to be caught, his motives remain unclear. However, witnesses have seen him in action, hacking away at the crucifix atop the Schafreuter “like a wild animal”, as the Guardian reports in its September 1 online edition.
|Summit cross on Pizol, Canton St Gallen, Switzerland|
Strange to say, this incident is not an isolated one. It recalls the case of a mountain guide who was charged with destroying or damaging three summit crosses in western Switzerland during the winter of 2009/2010. When asked by the police for his motive, he said: "These religious symbols, these effigies of torture disturb me when I encounter them out in the open air - the mountains belong to everyone: symbols have no place there."
The axemen are not alone in their animosity to summit crosses. In an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Reinhold Messner dismisses them as “symbols of resistance against the enlightenment", although he does not condone vandalising them. Yet, two hundred years after the Age of Reason, summit crosses still seem to be stirring up violent passions.
That mountain symbols retain their ancient power should not be surprising. Indeed, the emergent discipline of meizanology - the study of what mountains signify - would have no purpose if they hadn't. As powerful symbols in themselves, summit crosses deserve nothing less than a full meizanological analysis. And, in a week or so, they will get just that. Please watch this space.