Period II

Cathedral of Chur. Photo: www.kath.ch

Romans, Christians and Alemanni

The crisis that arose in the late second and early third century  marks the beginning of the end of the ancient Roman world and the transition to the Middle Ages. This period is usually called Late Antiquity and is characterized by the merging of old and new tendencies in ideas, art, religion, government, economy and urbanization and 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 made of it. Besides the flourishing eastern part of the Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire that lasted until 1453 (they called themselves Romans (romanoi),  the violence, poverty and diseases were still the same one thousand years later.

The dissolution of the western part of the Roman Empire was not peaceful, nor a sudden change. It was a process of centuries with ups and downs. The rise of Christianity was a slow process and should not have been possible without the Roman context. This transition was full of artistic innovation and creativity, political and religious changes and a gradual change without a complete break from the past.

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 and the Great Council of Nicaea (Izmir ) in 325.

Because Christianity was associated with imperial Rome, the 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 capital and established their centre of power in other  cities, Constantinople, Milan, Trier or Ravenna for example. The prestige of Rome remained however and bishops took advantage of the vacuum in Rome and promoted Rome as capital of the Christian world, claiming that Rome had the oldest right on this status because of the martyrdom of  St.Peter, the apostle with the keys to heaven.

The territory of today’s Switzerland and surrounding regions offer many examples of this history.  The gradual Christianization was caused by the example in Rome and other Italian cities after the second and third centuries. The city of Chur (Curia) was one of the first Christian cities in Switzerland and one of the first bishoprics on the right side of the river Rhine. The first known bishop is Asinio, mentioned in the year 451. The bishopric Chur belonged to the Archbishopric Milan until 843, when the former Carolingian Empire was divided in three parts by the Treaty of Verdun. Chur became part of the Archbishopric of Mainz until 1803, when the French conqueror dissolved the bishopric and all its possessions outside the Republic Helvetia.

The first church in Chur was built in the fifth century. The present cathedral is the result of fifteen hundred years building, art and architecture and shows Carolingian, Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles. (Source: D. MacCulloch, A History of Christianity (Londen 2009).