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Thaw afraid

Each year since 1678, the Catholic priest of Fiesch in the Swiss alps has led villagers in a procession to the nearby Fiescher glacier. They pray against the glacier, because it has had a tendency to slide towards their village and encroach on their fields. With holy water and a special liturgy authorised by the Vatican, they ask that it be made to keep away.

That is until this August, when the prayers in the annual rite have been changed. Villagers have noticed that, as they have been asking, the glacier is shrinking by 10 metres a year. But this is something it shares with most Swiss glaciers, because thanks to climate change it is melting.

The Austrian scientist Roland Psenner has predicted that most Alpine glaciers will disappear over the next 20-40 years. Melting glaciers have caused floods and landslides elsewhere in the Alps. The villagers of Fiesch also have the threat to skiiing and snowboarding to think about, tourism being their main source of income.

So this year, with their updated official liturgy, the people of Fiesch started praying for their glacier not to go after all.