Off the beaten path: St. Mauritius Cathedral in Appenzell

On a tip from the Switzerland Tourism Board, during my stay at The Null Stern (Zero Star) Hotel, I spent a day wandering Appenzell, a small town known as “the tourist center of Appenzellerland” … a region in the eastern Swiss highlands of which I had never heard. Appenzell is a beautiful town, filled with brightly-colored, intricately-painted buildings and windy streets rich with little shops and the occasional charming cafe.

Then, like a diamond in the not-so-rough, I discovered the St. Mauritius Cathedral.

I actually found it on a postcard. I was looking for a few postcards to send home from the picturesque village and saw a stunning, ornately decorated cathedral. I took the card to the cashier’s desk and said “Where is this?”

“That way,” answered the shopkeeper, pointing earnestly down the road. I was practically next door. These are the kind of delightful surprises one encounters when one has no plan.
%Gallery-93157%The St. Mauritius Cathedral was vast, empty, and open. Sorry for the grainy-ness of the photo; the flash ruined everything so I had to go without and adjust the shadows. I was immediately taken aback by the outrageous splendor in the midst of such a notably quaint town. A sign indicated that the area up by the altar was equipped with an alarm, but being alone in a sanctuary of such opulent grandeur was a strange experience. I certainly wasn’t going to steal anything, and yet I felt like I should be supervised. It was like being in a museum all alone with no security and wide open doors.

I know it sounds like I was casing the joint, but I was really just stunned at how simple it was to walk in and absorb the glory. What looked like a museum to me was an active church, immaculately kept, and full of things that any church in America would have roped off — things that were still in use.

Perhaps equally awe-inspiring was the graveyard behind the cathedral. Each grave, facing the rolling Swiss mountains, was freshly decorated and pretty, and some included small statues, trinkets, and other gifts beyond the usual flowers. I was particularly struck by a small section of tombstones for children, decked in toys and even pictures of the deceased. Heartbreaking and unbelievably beautiful.

If you should ever find yourself wandering Appenzellerland as I did, I highly recommend a visit to the under-appreciated Cathedral of St. Mauritius. It was one of the most unexpectedly dazzling places I’ve ever been.

My trip to Switzerland was sponsored by Switzerland Tourism, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.