From Arbon to Münsterlingen
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A couple of hours’ walk northwest of Rorschach – or a short hop by train or boat – is the ancient village of ARBON, reputedly the point at which Columba and Gallus stepped ashore. Walk left from the train station for about ten minutes to reach the tranquil village centre, marked by the spire of the Kirche St Martin, with, in its grounds, the tiny eleventh-century Galluskapelle. Adjacent is the sixteenth-century Schloss Arbon, now housing a small historical museum devoted to the town, of only passing interest (May–Sept daily 2–5pm; March, April, Oct & Nov Sun 2–5pm; Fr.2). The old streets nearby hold a number of interesting half-timbered buildings, most seventeenth- or eighteenth-century. The little disused chapel on Kapellgasse was built in 1390, but deconsecrated in 1777 and is now daubed with graffiti.

Some 7km further along the shore is Romanshorn, a run-of-the-mill lakeside resort with nothing much to see or do other than take the car ferry across to Friedrichshafen on the German shore. Continuing along the lakeshore, a couple of kilometres before Kreuzlingen lies the village of Münsterlingen, worth stopping in to visit its extraordinary sixteenth-century Baroque church, originally part of a Benedictine convent (Münster). The interior is beautifully decorated, with a spectacularly lavish altarpiece flanked by twisted gilt and turquoise columns, and a cupola overhead painted with a trompe l’oeil fresco: the abbess of the convent in the 1680s was related to master sculptor Christof Daniel Schenck from Konstanz, and brought him in to do some of the decoration and to sculpt the wood figures still on display in the church. A particularly striking altar curtain dating from 1565, used during Lent to hide the glory of the altar, hangs to one side, with an image of Christ on the cross surrounded by depictions of highly symbolic objects connected with the Passion – a rooster clutching a key, the head of Judas, a hammer and nails, three dice, and so on.

The most interesting story of Münsterlingen church begins in the sixteenth century when the climate was considerably chillier than it is today; during that century, it is said, the lake froze solid six or seven times. One winter, as the Reformation was taking hold in Münsterlingen, a church official from Hagnau, a town on the German bank opposite, walked across the frozen lake to Münsterlingen, where the church was being emptied of its decoration. He managed to save a single statuette of John the Baptist from the depradations of the Protestant iconoclasts, and took it back to Hagnau for safekeeping. When the lake froze again some years later, he remembered his journey, and brought the statuette back. Ever since then, a freezing of the lake has been the sign for a solemn procession to be made across the ice to take the statuette back to the opposite shore. In 1830, Münsterlingen’s clergy and villagers delivered the figurine to Hagnau, where it remained until the harsh winter of 1963, when the ice was solid enough to return it to Münsterlingen church. There it still sits, awaiting the next icy spell – although the statuette on display is a copy of the original, which is kept under lock and key in the crypt.

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