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St Gallus and the bear

The oldest depiction of bread in Switzerland: St Gallus and the bear (in new window)

The oldest depiction of bread in Switzerland: St Gallus is helped by a bear to build a shelter (left), whom he then rewards with a loaf of bread (right). Ivory carving© St Gallen Abbey Library

St Gallus, the Irish missionary who preached in the area of Lake Constance was charitable with his bread.

One version of the St Gallus legend tells how he gave bread to a hungry bear, which in gratitude helped him build the log cabin which later developed into one of the greatest Swiss monasteries. Another version has it that he first commanded the bear to help him, and only afterwards gave it the bread as a reward - and on condition it never returned.

Be that as it may, the oldest depiction of bread known in Switzerland is an ivory carving of this scene, dating from the 9th or 10th century. Gallus has left his name in the canton and city of St Gallen in eastern Switzerland, but the bear has not been forgotten either: it lives on in the flags of the commune of St Gallen and of the two Appenzell half cantons, which were once monastery lands.