ONE OF THE 5 GREAT HOUSES OF THE GENEVOIS
According to Amédée de Foras, historian and expert archivist of Savoy, “apart from the sovereign houses of Savoy, Genevois and Faucigny, no family in the Duchy or the County of Genevois had greater feudal power than the Menthon family in the thirteenth century”.
The first members of the Menthon family, knights of noble extraction, allegedly arrived from Burgundy. Although no specific reference to the family has been found before 1190, we can consider that the de Menthons, namely a certain Jean de Menthon, were already a very powerful family before the year 1000.
The exceptional number of births in the family – especially in the 13th and 14th centuries – allowed the Menthon family to preserve their influence. Many new family branches were developed, such as Menthon-Dingy, Menthon du Marest, Menthon-la-Balme, Menthon-Beaumont-Montrottier, Menthon-Lornay, Menthon d'Aviernoz.
Many Menthon family members played a prominent role in the following centuries, first in the County of Genevois, later in the Duchy of Savoy and then in France. There was namely Henri de Menthon, who was bailiff of Vaud; Nicod de Menthon, who was Governor of Nice and later Admiral of the Naval Fleet, sent by the Council of Florence to Constantinople; Bernard VI de Menthon, who gave “a large meadow called Pâquier” as a training field to the young members of the knight shooters infantry when he was appointed as colonel of Annecy’s regiment in 1613. More recently François de Menthon, uncle of the current owners, was a founding members of the French Resistance and represented France at the Nuremberg Trials as prosecutor. He was the first president of the Council of Europe and was Minister of Justice under de Gaulle. François de Menthon played a large part in the last major renovation works (roof, esplanade, reception room…) that gave the castle its current appearance.
THE SAINT PATRON OF MOUNTAINEERS
Although the last references to a lord of Menthon go back to 1190, the family probably lived in the place before as Saint-Bernard de Menthon was allegedly born there in 1008.
There are many representations of Saint-Bernard in the castle, including an oratory built in 1820.
Among the collection of 12,000 works in the castle’s library, a text tells the legend of Saint-Bernard de Menthon. Despite being attracted to religious life from his early ages, Bernard, was supposed to marry the wealthy and noble heiress Marguerite de Miolans. According to the legend, the night before his wedding he was kept captive while Saint-Nicolas visited him and told him: “jump through the window, angels will hold you”.
As the bars spread apart, Bernard escaped through the window and became deacon of Aosta in Italy.
Witnessing the dangers of the mountain, Saint-Bernard de Menthon became the soldier that freed the Alpine passes and made them safe for travellers. Indeed, high mountain areas have always been frequented: in order to save travellers from pillage - and sometimes death as it was easy to get lost, he founded the Grand-Saint-Bernard hospice on the former pass of Mont-Joux, between Martigny in the Swiss Valais and the Aoste Valley, and the Petit-Saint-Bernard hospice, between the Tarentaise and Aoste valleys.
The hospices greatly favoured trade and pilgrimage. Saint-Bernard, who was depicted as a soldier of charity and a truly brave man, dedicated his life to a double mission of hospitality and praise. This spirit of openness has always been preserved by canons of the Grand-Saint-Bernard Hospitaller Congregation, who also committed to missionary works in Taiwan.
Saint-Bernard’s Day is on June 15. He gave his name to the famous saviour dogs used by canons from the 15th century to the 18th century to save travellers that were lost in the snow and the storm. Their moto was: “Nobleness, devotion, sacrifice”.
The St. Bernard dog – rescuer of the mountaineers