And God Granted Their Wishes

For times immemorial, humans have prayed to their Gods to look favorably upon them, to keep them safe, and to grant their wishes. But what happens once the wish has been granted? This real life story starting in the dim past and bringing us into today's world tells you exactly what. 




In 1678, the village of Fiesch in the Republic of The Seven Tithes of Valais (today part of Switzerland) was under constant threat. The threat was not one of armies or invasion by human migrants but the much mightier threat of invasion by the migration of the Aletsch Glacier. During the period of global cooling around 1650, the glacier had started to grow at an alarming rate. 


The growing of the glacier not only ate up acreage of alpine meadows needed to feed cattle, it also provoked natural catastrophes such as rock-slides and spring-floods that severely damaged the village and its livelihood. The villagers therefore decided that nothing less than a major alliance could get them out of their troubles; they decided to enter into a pact with God. 


The Swiss have remarkable access to places higher up (well, not quite THAT high) and they petitioned Pope Innocence XI to grant them the boon of entering into a pact by oath with God. They would swear to live a good life in fear of God, and in return they would be allowed to petition God on a yearly basis to grant their most pressing wishes. The petition would include their wishes to be kept safe from harm, to be spared from natural catastrophes, and to stop the glacier from growing. 


Innocence XI granted their request, and the villagers started to send up their prayers every year on the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola on July 31st. In this, they were unfaltering and unfailing, and still there were rock-slides and spring-floods coming from their greatest enemy. And the glacier continued to grow. 


In 1862, Pope Pius IX granted the villagers the right to step up pressure on God. They were now allowed to hold a yearly procession to the chapel of Maria Heimsuchung (Chapel of the Visitation of Mary) to pray for assistance on their issues. The procession was and still is a form of penance as well; the ascent to the chapel takes six hours on foot. 



300 years of badgering God with the combined assistance of Saint Ignatius and Saint Mary finally showed results. The Aletsch Glacier finally was in fast retreat. While the growing glacier had caused rock-slides and spring-floods, the retreating glacier now produced spring-floods and rock-slides. Guess what the villagers did next? 


In 2009, they petitioned Pope Benedict XVI to grant them a change in their oath. Instead of praying for the glacier to go back, they now want it to grow. The Pope in his infinite wisdom and reflecting the ever unchanging Catholic Faith granted their request for a complete u-turn. British readers know how that works. Since 2011, the new prayers used on the feast of Saint Ignatius at the Church of Saint Mary are for the glacier to grow. 


What can we learn from this story? Be careful what you wish for from God, your wish might be granted. There is a positive side for all the Cassandras carping about global warming: I am sure that in 300 years the pious people of Fiesch will have prayed down a further ice-age. Problem solved, sort of.