Although both are long dead, the legend lives on in the Beatus Caves inside the Niederhorn Massif high above Lake Thun.
According to legend, St Beatus came to the land of the Helvetians in the first century AD, over the Brünig Pass to the village of Sundlauenen. These ancient Swiss were averse to change and didn't want foreigners meddling in their affairs.
Now it so happened that they were being terrorised by a nasty, fire-spewing dragon, which dwelled in some nearby caves, and they desperately needed some holy intervention. So St Beatus climbed up to the caves and confronted the beast with his pilgrim's staff. He exorcised the dragon, whereupon it flew out of the cave and crashed seething into the lake, causing the water to boil.
After St. Beatus had accomplished this miraculous feat, converting the awestruck locals was a mere formality.
One October I decided to hop on a tour boat in Spiez and make my way to the fabled caves. In less than an hour, the boat docked at Beatushöhlen-Sundlauenen. I was the only one to get off.
I stood alone and perplexed in front of a steep limestone cliff with no caves in sight – until I saw the sign. The trek took only twenty minutes with fantastic views of Lake Thun and surrounding mountains.
I got to the caves just in time for the next scheduled tour. After paying 18 francs, I was gently herded along with some other tourists to the entrance where a life-size replica of a bearded and cowled St Beatus sat meditating in a small, sparsely furnished cave.
On the left was a larger cave where a Stone Age family squatted around an imitation hearth, showing that the caves had been inhabited long before Beatus arrived on the scene. Our bilingual guide then led us into a bizarre subterranean world with stalagmites and stalactites, whose fantastic dripstone forms inspired such names as Crocodile, Tortoise, Witch's Cauldron, Three Sisters and Valhalla.
As we meandered up and down well-designated paths, surrounded by wondrous calcareous sculptures, tumbling waterfalls and crystal-clear pools, we were provided with interesting details about the geology of the caves. We were even confronted by the site dragon, Ponzo – but in painted fibreglass rather than in the flesh.
As the overhead lights dimmed and the narration unfolded, Ponzo roared and flashed his ferocious red eyes at us. It's not an experience for the faint-hearted.
Visitors can calm down with a drink at the on-site restaurant or seek spiritual succour at what's claimed to be the grave of St Beatus. I headed for the restaurant.
Getting there and away
The Beatus Caves can be reached by car or bus from the towns of Thun or Interlaken, or by lake cruise from any of the boat stops around Lake Thun.
Illustration: © Edi Barth
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Edi Barth is a Swiss/American cartoonist /tattoo artist. Edi will draw a witty cartoon (in black-and-white or color) of whatever subject you want for that special occasion, in black and white or in colour. Edi Barth is the author of the book "Menue Surprise". His cartoons and illustrations for ad campaigns have been published in many magazines and newspapers.
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Photos: © Beatus Caves (Beatushoehlen)