The Italian Almanac

Buddha

Italian News - September 30

“If you don’t take down your crosses, we won’t remove our Buddha”. There’s a holy war going on in the mountains. What started as a provocative gesture by a small group of Alpine guides in Valtellina now looks like getting out of hand. It could go the way of the debate over crucifixes in schools and courts.

The trouble started a few days ago, when a twenty-kilogram, one metre thirty-tall statue of Buddha was placed on the peak of Pizzo Badile, 3,308 metres above Valmasino, in the province of Sondrio. The group who put it there comprised Jacopo Merizzi, 46, an Alpine guide who has opened dozens of routes, Lupa Maspes, 33, a leading climber and participant in expeditions to the Himalayas, Mario Scarpa, 33, and Giovanna Novella, 25.

“We had a great time”, they say. “Then we decided to leave it there. At least until all religious symbols have been removed from the peaks. There’s been an inordinate increase in the number of crosses and plaques. With the retreat of the glaciers, it’s become the curse of the mountains”. The ecological protest sparked off a debate. Are crosses expressions of faith or defilers of the environment? Above all, if the symbols of one religion are allowed, why can’t there be the symbols of another?

Climber Reinhold Messner is in no doubt. “No crosses. No Buddhas”. “We have to stop abusing the peaks”, he says. “Mountains represent the divine on their own. They have no need of religious symbols. When you get to the top, it’s enough to build a cairn from stones as climbers used to do in the past”.