Lucelle and the Landskron, a regional history of European Dimensions
9 August 2023
France and Switzerland, the cantons of Jura and Basel-Landschaft and the Department of Haut-Rhin meet in the village of Lucelle (Lützel). The Cistercian abbey was founded around 1123/1124 along the little river La Lucelle (die Lützel).
Today, the river borders the Swiss canton of Jura and the French department of Haut-Rhin. In the 13th century, the border ran between the Prince-Bishopic and the county of Pfirt.
Habsburg took over county Pfirt in 1324. Lucelle was divided into two parts: essentially Austrian territory, including the monastery, and a small part of the territory of the Prince-Bishopric of Basel. Around this time, the monastery with over 200 monks, then a Habsburg possession, was the second richest and largest monastery in Alsace after Murbach Abbey.
An earthquake damaged the Romanesque monastery church in the early 14th century. In 1346, it was rebuilt as a high Gothic basilica. In 1375, the invading Gugler (English and French mercenaries in the Hundred Years War, 1337-1453) destroyed the monastery.
The monastery was destroyed again in 1499 by the Eidgenossen in the Swiss or Swabian War after the Battle of Dornach. In the German Peasants’ War of 1525, the monastery was plundered again, this time by peasants from Alsace.
However, the monastery recovered from all these events. It even doubled its territory in 1526 by acquiring the seignory and castle of Löwenburg (a ruin nowadays) in the Jura. The powerful Münch family, employed by the Bishop of Basel, owned the Löwenburg for a long time.
An undated drawing on one of the remaining two monastery buildings
Near this castle, the monastery built a complex of farms, storage buildings and a church. However, the monastery’s location on Austrian territory was disastrous during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The monks fled to Löwenburg, under the Swiss Confederation’s protection, or went to abbeys in the Confederation.
In 1638, the monastery was indeed pillaged. 1648, France took possession of the Alsatian Sundgau and Lucelle, and the monastery became French. The monastery enjoyed another great heyday because of the abbots’ good relations with the French kings until 1789.
François Ignace Tavanne (1728-1811), the monastery around 1776. Collection: Musée jurassienne des Beaux Arts, Porrentruy
The revolutionary government in Paris nationalised the monastery In 1792. The government continued the former monastery factories, including a brickyard, glassworks, foundry, and tannery.
The monastery wing and church were demolished in 1804. The material was used to build a new factory with a charcoal blast furnace and foundry for the arms industry. After 1860, this industry declined, and the factory closed in 1883. The factory buildings were later demolished.
The once-mighty monastery complex completely disappeared, except for two buildings along the road. Both buildings are used today by the private organisation Centre Europeen de Rencontres Lucelle (CERL).
The most powerful European dynasties and abbeys were once present in these regions of present-day Switzerland and France. It is reminiscent of the history and ruins of the Landskron near Leymen (France), on the border with canton Solothurn (Switzerland).
Lac de Lucelle (Lützelsee, canton of Jura) was first used as a fishing pond by the monastery. Later, a hydroelectric power station was built to supply mills, carpentry workshops, forges and foundries. A stream feeds the small lake. Ash, maple, alder and willow grow along its banks. A beautiful beech forest surrounds the valley of Lucelle.
Cadastral drawing of the Lützelsee/ lac de Lucelle, 1803. Staatsarchiv Basel-Stadt
(Source and further information: Barocke Bauwerke im Süddeutschen und schweizerischen Raum)