Period II newsletter

Chur, St. Martinskirche, a. 800. Photo/foto: TES.

Christianity, Rulers and Raetia

The crisis that arose in the late second and early third centuries  marks the beginning of the end of the ancient Roman world, and the transition to the Middle Ages.

Late Antiquity and Christianity

This period — usually called Late Antiquity — is characterized by the merging of old and new trends in ideas, art, religion, government, economy and urbanization, and in the role and function of the city and its local elites.

This age of transition from Roman to Christian Switzerland was far from the dark or obscure world that posterity has made of it.

The eastern part of the Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted until 1453. They called themselves Romans (romanoi).

The dissolution of the western part of the Roman Empire was not peaceful, nor was it a sudden change. It was a process over centuries, with its ups and downs.

The rise of Christianity was a slow process and would not have been possible without the Roman context. This transition was full of artistic innovation and creativity, political and religious changes and a gradual transition without a complete break from the past.

The oldest Christian homelands

Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and Turkey are the oldest Christian homelands and Aramese and Greek were the original Christian languages.

The diversification has lost most of its meaning today, but Donatists, Montanists, Marcionists, Manichees, Zoroastrianism, Monarchins and of course Arianism, the leading Christian faith of the Vandals, Langobards and Goths, differed from Latin Christianity as it is known today.

The imperial Catholic dogma became the leading faith. Constantine the Great was the first Roman Emperor to call Councils, including the Great Council of Nicaea (Izmir ) in 325.

The Roman emperors

Because Christianity was associated with imperial Rome, religion was a political factor and career maker. The imperial Roman political and administrative structures and the Latin language became the blueprint for the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

The Roman emperors abandoned Rome as a capital and established their centre of power in other cities: Constantinople, Milan, Trier, or Ravenna for example.

The prestige of Rome remained however, with the bishops taking advantage of the vacuum in Rome and promoting Rome as the capital of the Christian world: they claimed that Rome had the oldest right to this status because of the martyrdom of  St.Peter, the apostle with the keys to heaven.


The territory of today’s Switzerland shows many examples of this history.  Chur (Curia) was one of the first Christian cities in Switzerland, and one of the first bishoprics north of the Alps.

The first known bishop is Asinio, mentioned in the year 451.

The bishopric Chur belonged to the Archbishopric of Milan until 843, when the former Carolingian Empire was divided into three parts by the Treaty of Verdun.

Chur became part of the Archbishopric of Mainz until 1803, when the French conqueror dissolved the bishopric.

The first church in Chur was built in the fifth century. The present cathedral is the result of fifteen hundred years of building, art and architecture;  it features Carolingian, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles.

(Source: D. MacCulloch, A History of Christianity (Londen 2009).