Even before morning has broken, the great bell of the parish church of St. Maurice wakes the faithful. This startling wake-up call at 4.40 in the morning on the second or third Sunday in May can be heard across almost the entire canton and reminds the people of Appenzell of their ancient promise. After the victorious battle at the Stoss in June 1405 they vowed to make a pilgrimage to the site of the battle each year on the feast of St. Boniface (14 May) to give thanks for their freedom and to remember the fallen. The Stoss pilgrimage is one of the oldest and most natural traditions in the Appenzellerland.
At six o’ clock the procession sets out from the St. Maurice parish church in Appenzell to the Stoss, a walk of nine kilometres. According to the pledge, an honourable man from each household should take part. For the members of the Standeskommission and the cantonal court as well as senior public officials from Innerrhoden, the pilgrimage is part of their duties. At the front are the police and flag bearers, followed by the clergy and altar servers, then the members of the government and finally students and members of the public, which since 1991 has also included women and girls.
Half way to the Stoss at the historic hamlet of Sammelplatz, where the defenders of Appenzell gathered before the battle, the council clerk reads a document known as the «Fahrtbrief». This recounts the events of the legendary battle during Appenzell’s struggle for independence and names the fallen residents of Appenzell, including local hero Ueli Rotach. The Lord’s Prayer is then recited five times.
At the time when it gained its freedom from foreign rule and the Abbey of St. Gallen, the canton of Appenzell was undivided. The division into a Catholic and a Protestant half-canton took place in 1597 without bloodshed thanks to skilful negotiation on the part of six other cantons.
A large part of the pilgrims’ path today runs on Ausserrhoden land. At sections of the route, either along the road or on the meadows depending on the weather, 300 to 500 pilgrims recite the rosary. On arrival at the chapel there is an open-air church service with musical accompaniment from the Harmonie music group. After a short rest the pilgrims then return to Appenzell on specially chartered trains.
The pilgrimage will be on the 14th of May 2023.