A discussion developed over the weekend involving the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), the main Italian association dedicated to mountaineering and the mountains, and several right-wing politicians following a major misunderstanding concerning the “summit crosses” , that is, the crosses in wood, metal or stone present on most of the peaks of the Alps and the Apennines. The Minister of Tourism Daniela Santanchè and the Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini have mounted a controversy by opposing the hypothesis that the CAI removes the crosses from the tops of the mountains: a hypothesis that is not only false, but was indeed clearly excluded by the interested parties.
Last week, during the presentation of a book, the writer Marco Albino Ferrari, editorial director and head of cultural activities of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI), had supported the opportunity not to erect new crosses on top of the mountains, from now on, clearly saying however that existing ones should not be removed. This position had been then reported on Friday in an article on the CAI portal The Boot, in which it was said that it was «fully shared» by the association. However, that article was taken up with somewhat equivocal titles by some newspapers, which were then quoted in scandalous tones by various politicians who then built a cycle of controversies and reactions on blatantly false news. In the end the CAI had to intervene again, which effectively dissociated itself from the opinions of Ferrari and those who had written the article on the Boot (opinions which, however, did not envisage removing the crosses).
The custom of erecting crosses in the mountains with the modern meaning was born at the end of the eighteenth century to celebrate and remember mountaineering feats and at the same time give concrete form to Catholic prayers. However, there has been a debate about these installations for decades: partly because the cross is not a secular and universal symbol, which unites anyone who frequents the mountains, but only of Christian religions; and partly due to the increasing attention to respect for the mountains as natural environments, to be preserved free from new infrastructures and human monuments.
The book from whose presentation the controversy arose was Summit crosses in the Apennines (Ciampi Editore, 2022) by the art historian Ines Millesimi, an essay that maps and tells the stories of the 68 crosses present on the peaks of the Apennines above two thousand meters in height. The presentation was held Thursday by the Catholic University of Milan and in addition to Ferrari, the priest Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Vatican’s dicastery for culture and education, spoke.
Commenting on the controversy are Facebook, Millesimi reiterated that no one during the presentation said they wanted to remove the summit crosses. He accused the politicians of having exploited the debate and underlined that the CAI takes care of the maintenance of the summit crosses that have suffered damage due to the weather conditions. Millesimi also said that she had spoken about her work in many contexts close to the Catholic Church, as well as in the Vatican, and that Sánchez agreed with the opinion shared by her and Ferrari, namely that new crosses should not be erected, leaving there where are those that already exist.
The presentation and the proposal have been summarized in an article on Boot signed by the anthropologist Pietro Lacasella, head of the masthead contents. In the article, however, a clearly negative judgment was expressed on the hypothesis of removing the crosses.
At the conference there was a point of cultural, legal, historical and even religious convergence; a perspective that found broad agreement among those present on the need to leave the existing crosses intact, because they are significant evidence of a cultural cross-section, and at the same time to avoid the installation of new symbols on the peaks.
This thesis is fully shared by the Italian Alpine Club. In fact, the CAI looks with respect at the existing crosses, but not only: it takes care of their state and eventually, if necessary, takes care of their maintenance (cleaning them of the stickers, restoring them in case of sudden collapse, …). This is because – it is right to highlight it once more – removing them would be like erasing a trace of our journey; an imprint to look at to inhabit the present with greater awareness.
Some other newspapers have resumed the debate, correctly citing the position of the CAI: «Mountain, Cai: “Stop the crosses on the peaks, they are anachronistic and divisive”» he headlined TGCOM, « » il National newspaper. It is starting from this news that politics intervened, attributing to the CAI intentions that had been clearly excluded.
“I am appalled by the CAI’s decision to remove the crosses from the mountain peaks without having communicated anything to the ministry”, Santanchè told the press agencies on Sunday: “I would never have accepted such a decision which goes against our principles, our culture , the identity of the territory, its respect”. Salvini published instead on his Facebook page an image that takes up the title of the article Of TGCOM caused the CAI’s position to be misunderstood and wrote: «I think that the proposal to “ban” the Crucifix in the mountains because it is “divisive and anachronistic” is nonsense, heartless and meaningless, which denies our history, our culture, the our past and our future. At a party congress in Piedmont on Sunday, he even said: «You will have to pass over my body to remove a single crucifix from an Alpine peak, without ifs and buts».
In the end, the general president of the CAI Antonio Montani intervened, replying to the words of Santanchè, Salvini and other politicians of the government majority, apologizing to the minister “for the misunderstanding generated by the articles that appeared in the press” and clarifying that there is no official position of the CAI on the crosses at the top, but that «what is published is the result of personal declarations expressed by the editorial director Marco Albino Ferrari during the presentation of a book». Salvini commented: «Common sense choice by Cai which, after our appeal, turns around on the stop sign at the crosses at the top of the mountains. So good!”.
Among the various articles published on the controversy, however some they wrote that the Alpine guides of Alagna, a municipality in the province of Vercelli located below Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Alps, have “already begun to remove” the summit crosses “to amass them in a memorial”. This information is also false: the Alagna guides have not removed crosses from the summit at all, nor created a memorial. On the contrary, in 2020 they took care of restoring that of Punta Dufour of Monte Rosawhich had collapsed.
In an interview with Corriere della Sera the head guide of Alagna Andrea Enzio had instead spoken of a memorial to house the tombstones and other religious symbols that the families of people who died in the mountains had arranged on their own initiative along the paths, but he was not referring to the crosses on the summits: «On some of ascent to Monte Rosa there are 3-4 tombstones right in the middle of the route: we don’t want to remove them and we don’t want to disrespect anyone. We just want to invite those who want to put new ones, to place them in a memorial. We don’t want to ban anything. It’s just a suggestion that we make, together with the Municipality, so as not to scatter the mountain of “memories”».