Period II newsletter

Cathedral of Chur. Photo:

Swiss Transition to Christianity

The beginning of the end of the ancient Roman world and the transition to the Middle Ages is usually called Late Antiquity. This age of transition from Roman to Christian Switzerland was far from the dark or obscure world that posterity made of it.

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 and the rise of Christianity to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. This transition period was also full of artistic innovation and creativity, political and religious changes and a gradual change without a complete break from the past.

Constantine the Great was the first Roman Emperor to call Councils. The Great Council of Nicaea (Izmir ) in 325 was his initiative. Because Christianity became associated with imperial Rome, religion became a political factor and career-maker for the elite.

The imperial Roman political and administrative organization became the model for the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Bishops belonged to the ruling classes. The Roman emperors abandoned Rome and established their centres of power in other cities (Constantinople, Milan, Trier, or Ravenna for example).

The prestige of Rome remained, however. Bishops took advantage of the political vacuum in Rome and promoted Rome as the capital of the Christian world, claiming that Rome had the oldest right because of the martyrdom of  St. Peter, who holds the keys to heaven.

The territory of today’s Switzerland offers many examples of this history. This region was strongly Romanized. The city of Chur (Curia) was one of the first Christian cities in Switzerland and is one of the first bishoprics on the right side of the river Rhine and north of the Alps.

The first known bishop is Asinio, mentioned in the year 451. The Bishopric of Chur belonged to the Archbishopric Milan until 843 when the Carolingian Empire was divided into three parts by the Treaty of Verdun. Chur became subordinated to the Archbishopric of Mainz in 843,  until 1803 when the French conqueror dissolved the Bishopric and all its possessions outside the Republic Helvetia.

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