Erschwil, Kirche St. Peter und Paul, September 2022. Foto/Photo: TES

Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Agriculture in Schwarzbubenland

The meaning of ‘Schwarzbuben’ probably comes from the word ‘schwärzen’, meaning smuggling. Schwarzbubenland is the region north of Mount Passwang (1204 metres) in the canton of Solothurn. It consists of the districts of Dorneck and Thierstein. The main towns are Dornach and Breitenbach.

The Benedictine monastery of Beinwil moved in 1648 to Mariastein monastery, located a little further away. Some monks remained in the monastery, however, but since 1874 Beinwil had to do without monks as a result of the ‘Kulturkampf‘. The inhabitants of Solothurn had thus decided in a referendum.

The monastery complex has been housing a Byzantine Orthodox monastery since 2019: Holy Orthodox Monastery Johannes Kapodistria (Heilige Orthodoxe Kloster Johannes Kapodistria), headed by the abbot Archimandrit Dionysios. The monastery falls under the Patriarchate of Antioch.

In 1084, the year of the Great Schism, it was unthinkable for a Catholic monastery to be replaced by an Orthodox monastery. It symbolises the vitality of the Orthodox religion and their monasteries in parts of Europe. They fill the gap of the (almost) empty Catholic monasteries. The abbey has four monks and enjoys growing interest.

Not only monasteries (also in Mariastein and Dornach, among others), the pilgrimage site in Meltingen, churches, numerous chapels and a huge church in Seewen (Kirche St. German) found their place in this Catholic canton.

The fertile soil guarantees good conditions for arable farming and rich harvests of a diversity of fruits and vegetables. The Lüssel valley is a good example.

Even after months without rain, the valley is still a green oasis. The residents of Erschwil highlighted their gratitude for the harvest in the Kirche St. Peter und Paul. In doing so, they express that ‘daily food’ is not to be taken for granted. This is not a religious expression, but respect for nature and the farmer.

The village lies in a valley on the small river Lüssel in the medium-high Jura Mountains with its many rock formations, gorges, valleys, meadows, forests, streams and rivers. The village was first mentioned in a document in 1147 under the name Hergiswilre.

The Beinwil monastery exercised spiritual power and owned land in the village. The Counts von Thierstein were secular rulers. Solothurn acquired the village in 1522. After an initial conversion to the Protestant faith, the village had a Catholic church again in the 17th century.

Erschwil is not only a good starting or ending point for hikes. It is also close to the towns of Zwingen, Dornach and Laufen and other beautiful places, including Gempen, and Rodersdorf, on the borders of Basel-Landschaft and France.

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