The lifesaver of the Arlberg

He was only a poor foundling, and yet he  made a career for himself: Heinrich Findelkind rose from being a swineherd to being the hostel warden and founder of the Brotherhood. It was not ideas of grandeur that drove the young man on, but christian compassion to make the dangerous path over the Arlberg more safe, by building the Hospiz St. Christoph am Arlberg.

In 1365 Otze the Steward of Kempten was travelling with his retinue over the Arlberg. In the snowstorm they stumbled across a small group of people, lying lifeless in the snow. The bitter winter had again taken its toll. Yet one of the dead held a small child in its arms, who still lived.

Heinrich Findelkind was still a babe in arms when he was found by the steward of Kempten, taken and given the name of Heinrich the Foundling, and raised along with his other nine children. Heinrich stayed ten years with the steward of Kempten, but then the steward stood surety for a friend and fell into financial difficulties. As a result he could no longer support his family and half of the children had to leave to find work elsewhere. And so Heinrich Findelkind, just ten years old, had to leave his home and his beloved foster parents.

He wandered day and night , without a definite goal. On his way south he met two priests on their way to Rome. He joined them and together they passed over the Arlberg.

As night fell, they decided to rest at the Arlen castle and were warmly welcomed by the lord of the castle, Jakob Überrhein. The lord gave them shelter and offered Heinrich a job as swineherd, which he gratefully accepted. Every year, after the snow had melted, he tended the pigs on the mountain pastures and shared their loneliness. This he did for ten years. On Sundays he went to church with his lord and carried his sword. This was an honour normally reserved for young noblemen.

One day in spring he had to watch as corpses released from the winter snow were brought down from the heights of the Arlberg pass to be buried in St. Jakob. He could not forget these poor pilgrims, even in his dreams. The desire to help, the compulsion to do something about this misery, became stronger and stronger.

In the past ten years he had earned 15 guilders as swineherd. On Easter Sunday 1385 he plucked up his courage, stood out in front of the church community, offered his 15 guilders and asked who would come to the assistance of these poor pilgrims. But they laughed at him.

So he decided to do something on his own, to build a hostel to offer shelter to pilgrims from the winter dangers. All summer long he studied the mountains, to find the best place to build such a shelter. A place that was safe from avalanches and rock fall. When he had found such a place, with the help of Jakob Überrhein, he asked Duke Leopold III of Austria to grant him a small plot of land to build his shelter. He promised to manage this shelter and to help pilgrims so that these should not perish.

On 27 December 1385 Leopold III issued his decree, and at the same time called on his fellow countrymen to give active support to Heinrich Findelkind.