Period II newsletter

Cathédrale de Bâle (Basler Münster), 11e -15e siècle. Photo: TES.

Swiss Bishoprics and their Cultural Heritage

In the centuries between the (slow) dissolution of the Roman Empire (5th century) and the rise of the great Monarchies and dynasties (10th thru12th centuries), the Church and the bishop were the most dominant social, economic and political institutions with secular power.

The diocese was the new sovereignty based on an ecclesiastical (diocese) territory, and it possessed many properties (often far beyond the diocese).

The bishop was the highest authority with, formally, the archbishop of the archdiocese and the Pope as his superiors,  and with local secular rulers and princes as either competitors or allies.

The division into bishoprics and their Archbishoprics give a good impression of Switzerland’s rich cultural heritage.

Lausanne and Basel.

The bishoprics of Lausanne and Basel belonged to the Archbishopric of Besançon. French culture strongly influenced these territories.

Constance and Chur

The bishopric of Constance (Germany nowadays) stretched over central and northeastern Switzerland and parts of Southern Germany, and fell under the authority of the Archbishopric of Mainz.

The bishopric of Chur was part of the Archbishopric of Milan until 843 (Treaty of Verdun); after 843, the bishopric was assigned to the Archbishopric of Mainz. To this day, Lombardian and German influences are omnipresent in this region.


The bishopric of Sion was part of the Archbishopric of Tarentaise and the culture of Savoy.


The bishopric of Geneva belonged to the Archbishopric of Vienne and the Provençal culture.


The  dioceses of Switzerland (then the Helvetic Republic 1798-1803) were directly ruled by the Vatican after 1801.


Until 1801, the Swiss bishoprics were always ruled by Archbishoprics from other cultures. This history still defines the country and its rich culture at the crossroads of Europe.

(Sources: K. Speich, H. Schläpfer, Eglises et Monastères suisses, Zurich 1979; F. Mazel, L, Évêque et le territoire. L´invention médiévale de l´espace (Ve-XIIIe siècle, Paris 2008).