Romiti / Rigi
|Type of Building:||Zendo (Zen temple)|
|Building height:||8.10 m|
|Objections:||Yes, from the local authority (concerning forest clearance)|
|Owners:||Stiftung Felsentor (Felsentor Foundation)|
|Architect:||Paul Disco, California|
|Start of construction:||July 2003|
|Construction period:||14 months|
|Inauguration:||22nd September 2004|
|Religious tradition:||Zen Buddhism (as well as inter-religious concerns)|
|Conception through to inauguration:||approximately 6 years|
Romiti Felsentor station. We find ourselves halfway between Vitznau and the destination for most of the other passengers: the summit of Mount Rigi. Our train journey, however, ends here. Only a few passengers get out at this apparently rarely used stop. After about ten minutes down the valley trail, three huge rocks block the way, as if after a rockfall. A closer look, however, reveals that the stones are leaning against each other in such a way as to create a passageway, the «Felsentor», or «stone gate».
Immediately after this astonishing natural work of art is a dainty little park, in which stands a wooden building.
This is no Lucerne alpine hut, however, but a temple-like building in an Asian style. At least, this is suggested by the slightly curved design of the roof. The initial impression is of a zendo, a Zen-Buddhist temple. In fact, it is the work of an American Zen priest, who studied Temple design in Japan. Following Hans Vanja Palmers, the founder of the Stiftung Felsentor, the intention was to «create a building that transcends both time and culture».
In 1860 the Weggis local-authority built the Hotel Felsentor, just below the «stone gate». Since 2001, however, its breathtaking views over Lake Lucerne are no longer enjoyed by resort guests, but by seminar participants.
The Hotel Felsentor in a photograph from 1906.
Hans Vanja Palmers explains; «As there were few secluded zendos in Switzerland where it was possible to stay overnight and hold multi-day sesshins (meditation weeks), it was our aim to find and create such a place.» This aim was achieved in 1999, when the property was bought by the newly founded Stiftung Felsentor.
View of the new building, which houses the meditation hall.
Intitially, the local planning authority had concerns about the zendo construction project, reports Palmer. This was because the land was outside a building zone, and the Rigi is part of a protected landscape. The appearance of the building was also an issue for the authorities. After lengthy negotiations, a building permit was finally given, and the zendo was opened in late 2004.
Was this architectural masterpiece built simply for its own sake, or are there other reasons?
The appearance of the building in meant to prompt curiosity, and also be inviting, claims Palmer. However, the design of the zendo is not merely aesthetic; «The beauty and simplicity of the zendo – both inside and out – supports and uplifts the spirit in its own search for beauty and simplicity.»
Hans Vanja Palmers is the founder and president of the Stiftung Felsentor, and was co-founder of the Haus der Stille (House of tranquillity) in Puregg, Austria. He has been a Zen priest for 30 years. He is also involved in animal welfare, a key concern of the Stiftung Felsentor. He was one of the primary initiators of the zendo project, and is now responsible for its operation.
Palmer describes the relationship with the Vitznau and Rigi area as invariably good; «The local authority, government and passing hikers are all very happy with the building and our activities within it. They commend and support us in all respects.» The garden restaurant is open to the public, making it relatively easy for the public to learn about the meeting and meditation centre.
Meditation seminars and courses for the development of bodily awareness have been offered at Felsentor since 2002. The courses are offered by teachers from various Buddhist traditions. There are also courses on homeopathy, contemplative dance, ink painting, dream work, and more. In summer, the foundation runs a small vegetarian restaurant.
Although the community id based on Buddhist teachings, it still sees itself as inter-religious. In fact, the Franciscan nun Sister Theresa also lives and works at the centre, and in the zendo building, a statue of the Black Madonna is to be found alongside the expected Buddha statue.
Another focus of the centre is the environment and animal protection. Below the former hotel building, the community runs a small mountain hut with an artificial pond, in which live chickens, pigs and goats, as well as a bull named Nandi, who became famous in the Swiss media for escaping slaughter.
Text: Edwin Egeter
Photos: Edwin Egeter
«Cupola – Temple – Minaret» is a Project by the Centre for Research on Religions, Lucerne
Last updated: 15th April 2015
© 2009-2015 Religionswissenschaftliches Seminar der Universität Luzern