The mountainsides glow in the last rays of the evening sun. Cowbells and cattle have fallen silent. After a hard day’s work the herdsman finds an elevated position on his alp, puts the carved wooden funnel to his mouth and calls out the alpine blessing. A moving moment of reflection.
On several Innerrhoden alps the evening prayer is called out every evening during the summer. The sound transports the listener back to mediaeval times. The text, too, is archaic – half in local dialect and half in old-fashioned German. This tradition reflects a deeply religious, ancient Catholic custom.
A type of herdsman’s prayer sung in the meadows of the Alpstein region is mentioned as early as the 15th century and was known at the time as «ave singing» or «ave maria singing». The custom then became lost in the mists of antiquity
Today’s Innerrhoden evening prayer is in fact not very old at all. An «Innerrhoden» alpine blessing was performed on stage at the 1939 Appenzell Festival. The melody and text were borrowed from other regions, which was an embarrassment for some Innerrhoden inhabitants. Two Capuchin monks, Erich Eberle and Ekkehard Högger, were therefore asked in 1946 to compose a specially written evening prayer. After a few modifications to the text this is what has been used since 1948. The litany-like melodic line is based on a five-tone scale and is reminiscent of Gregorian plain chant and the half-spoken, half-sung form gives the alpine blessing its traditional character. Many little family altars in the alpine huts are adorned with a parchment on which the prayer is beautifully written out. Researchers of the alpine evening prayer are of the opinion that the prayer was chanted instead of the evening church bells («Betlüüte) normally heard down in the valley. The purpose here, too, was to provide protection on the alp against the perils of the night. It is supposed to protect all within its reach from earthly and eternal fire, hail, lightning, rockfall, pestilence, hunger and war.
Up until recently the evening prayer was the sole preserve of men. However, these days women too practise this enchanting custom
On various alps
During the alpine grazing season, at dusk