The City and Bishopric of Chur
12 February 2023
The history of the town of Chur (Canton Graubünden) dates back to around 11,000 BC. The area was already populated in prehistoric times. When the Romans conquered the area between 15 and 13 BC, Rhaetian tribes lived in the region. Chur (Curia) was the capital of the Roman province of Raetia Prima.
The beginnings of the bishopric of Chur date back to the 4th century. Chur (Curia) is one of the first Christian cities in Switzerland and one of the first dioceses north of the Alps. The first known bishop was Asinio, mentioned in a document from 451.
The size of the diocese corresponded to the Roman province of Raetia prima and extended to the present-day canton of Graubünden (the principality of) Liechtenstein, parts of Austria (Vorarlberg and Tyrol) and Italy (South Tyrol or Vinschgau).
The bishopric was called Churrätien or Rätien in the Middle Ages.
Bishop Tello was the last descendant of the Rhaetian dynasty of the Victorides. He built the so-called Tello Church in the 8th century. Today’s late Romanesque church was built on the foundation walls of this church and consecrated on 19 June 1272.
The diocese of Chur belonged to the archbishopric of Milan until 843. After the Treaty of Verdun in 843 (a division of the Carolingian Empire into three independent kingdoms), the diocese was subject to the Archbishopric of Mainz until 1803.
Under the Carolingian rulers and the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire in the period from 800 to 1300, the bishop gained political and economic power. From 1299, he was also granted jurisdiction over Chur and the surrounding villages. His secular power began to wane after 1400, however.
Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493) granted the city constitutional independence in 1464. The city’s new constitution (1465) was based on the five guilds (weavers, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths, and bakers). This constitution transferred political power from the bishop to the guilds. With the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century, the bishop’s political influence declined further.
The seat of the government and parliament of the canton and the monument of the Drei Bünde
During the French Revolution and the Napoleonic campaigns, Graubünden became a theatre of war in 1798 and 1799. Chur was alternately in French and Austrian hands.
Since 1803, Graubünden has been a canton of the Swiss Confederation after initial competition from Ilanz (capital of the Graue Bund (the Grey League) and Davos (capital of the League of the Ten Jurisdictions (Zehngerichtenbund), Chur (capital of the League of the House of God (Gotteshausbund) was able to assert itself as the capital of the canton.
The diocese has been directly subordinate to the Vatican since 1803. The Austrian territories (Vorarlberg and Tyrol) were separated from the diocese of Chur in 1816 and assigned to the two dioceses of Brixen and Trient. One thousand three hundred years of church history came to an end.
After separating these areas, the diocese’s territory was limited to the canton of Graubünden, parts of the canton of St. Gallen and the Principality of Liechtenstein. In 1819, large parts of the diocese of Constance were added to the diocese of Chur. Today, the diocese includes the cantons of Graubünden, Zurich, Schwyz, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Uri and Glarus.
Office building of the Lia Rumantscha
The city has 15 times more inhabitants (over 37 000) than 200 years ago. Today, Chur is a modern city with the seat of the cantonal government and parliament, the head office of the Rhaetian Railway, several museums (Rhaetian Museum, Graubünden Art Museum, Cathedral Treasure Museum, Prehistory Exhibition, Graubünden Photo Foundation and Forum Würth), the Lia Rumantscha, publishing houses and various other cultural institutions and tourist attractions.
(Source: Historisches Lexicon der Schweiz, J. Simonett, Chur; H. Schlapp, die Kathedrale von Chur, Coire, 2009; R. Kaiser, Churrätien im frühen Mittelalter, Bâle, 2008)
Impressions of Chur
Von Planta, Rotes Haus, with the heraldry