When people think of the Saint Bernard, they often picture in their heads a massive dog carrying some sort of liquor in a barrel attached to their collar.
Supposedly, the purpose of such liquor was to help the avalanche victims remain warm while awaiting rescue.
However, if we dig deeper into a Saint Bernard's history, we'll soon notice how there are several facts that still remain shrouded in mystery.
Let's discover more about the Saint Bernard's history, and what type of liquor was supposedly carried in the kegs around their neck.
A Look Back in History
Before becoming our loyal companions and guardians of our homes, Saint Bernard dogs were utilized for a very noble cause: saving human lives.
These massively large dogs were used along what's known as "the Saint Bernard Pass," the third highest road pass in Switzerland, towering at an impressive 8,100 feet.
The Saint Bernard pass is a 49-mile route connecting Martigny, the French-speaking district found in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, with Aosta, a bilingual region in the Italian Alps.
This ancient pass has a long history dating back to the Celtic and then Roman period. In the 1800, Napoleon used this route to pass through with numerous troops and heavy artillery.
Nowadays, the Great St. Bernard Tunnel allows a more practical route, but the pass, still as of today, remains a historical landmark.
History as Rescuers
At the highest point of this pass, Archdeacon Bernard de Menthon founded around 1049 the Great Saint Bernard Hospice in hopes of helping distressed travelers along the treacherous path..
Initially, Saint Bernard dogs were meant to be a guardian of the hospice, however, later on they turned out becoming handy rescue dogs.
Saint Bernard dogs indeed were strong enough to walk through deep snow drifts and had a good sense of smell to track travelers.
There dogs were found to have a natural instinct to look for people trapped in snow
Once found, the stranded travelers were offered nourishment, clothing and shelter in the hospice by the monks.
It is possible that the monks carried flasks of brandy and provided them to stranded travelers to help warm them up.
What Do Saint Bernard's Carry in Their Barrel?
Sadly, Saint Bernard dogs didn't carry anything in their barrels for the simple fact that they didn't carry barrels in the first place.
Turns out, according to The Saint Bernard Club of New South Wales, it is widely agreed that the actual use of small barrels of brandy attached to a Saint Bernard's neck is a myth.
However, despite the myth, the Saint Bernard is still recognized as a barrel-toting mountain rescuer nevertheless.
The liquor contained in the barrel was supposedly brandy.
The Myth of the Saint Bernard's' Barrels
The myth behind the Saint Bernard dog carrying a whiskey barrel around his neck is based on a painting by Edwin Landseer, a famous and very talented painter from England.
In one of his paintings, two Saint Bernards are shown rescuing a fallen traveler.
In this painting, the Saint Bernard on the left barks, while the other who has a barrel hung around its neck, licks his hand. According to Landseer, this barrel contained brandy.
The Myth of Liquor Warming Up
Another myth involves the longstanding belief that liquor helps warm up people struggling with the cold.
While drinking boozy liquors may initially make one feel warmer, they actually do a bad job in actually keeping people warm or preventing hypothermia.
Indeed, it can be said that the opposite holds true, alcohol actually lowers a person's core temperature.
Barry, The Ultimate Savior
One Saint Bernard worthy of mentioning was the legendary Barry, who is credited for saving the lives of over 40 people.
In one incident, he rescued a young boy who was stuck on an icy ledge. He crawled inch-by-inch to the boy, licking his face. There was no way for the monks to reach the boy, so Barry had to rescue him.
The boy held onto Barry's neck and was slowly dragged to safety.
Barry's body is now displayed at the Natural History Museum in Berne, Switzerland, where he still can be admired today.