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The Greater Aletsch Glacier, a journey into the melting heart of the Alps
In 1674, residents of Fiesch, a village in the Swiss canton of Valais at the feet of the Greater Aletsch Glacier – the largest in the European Alps – established a Catholic ritual to ask the heavens to stop this and the nearby Fiescher Glacier from advancing, and therefore threatening their safety. The pilgrimage has been held every year on the last day of July for the past 340 or so summers.
After reaching its peak extension in the mid-1800s, the Aletsch Glacier began receding and has continued to do so at an accelerating pace. In 2009, in recognition of this new turn of events, the local parish petitioned the Vatican to alter the ritual to ask for the glaciers to stop melting instead. “Glacier is ice, ice is water, water is life,” the new prayer, approved by the highest Catholic authority, invokes