Porrentruy, Castle Prince-Bishopric. Photo: TES.

The Prince-Bishopric of Basel

The history of the bishopric of Basel (Basilia in Roman times) goes back to the Roman Empire. The bishop moved from Augusta Raurica (Augst) to Basel in the fifth century. The invasions of Germanic tribes (Alamanni) were the reason. The hill in Basel offered an excellent refuge and had some defensive walls.

The ancient palace of the bishop in Augusta Raurica (Augst)

The bishopric led a politically and culturally inconspicuous existence until the Empire of Charlemagne. The bishops Wado and Haito (762-836) were advisers of Charlemagne and initiators of crucial cultural changes.

The diocese acquired the rights of Moutier-Grandval Abbey in 999 as a gift from Rudolf III (971-1032), the last king of Burgundy.

The bishop became the vassal and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1033. It was the beginning of the Prince-Bishopric Basel, which formally lasted until 1803

Emperor Henry II (953-1024) financed the renovation of the cathedral, the Münster (which means monastery), in Basel.

The Prince-Bishopric was the most powerful state on the Upper Rhine by acquiring the St. Ursanne Abbey in 1146 and military expeditions in the thirteenth century.

The possessions encompassed the Jura, the Sundgau, southern Alsace, Birseck, Birstal, and territories south of Germany.

The Eidgenossen confiscated the southern part of the Jura and the cities Biel and Moutier in 1476 and 1477 (after the Burgundian Wars). The northern part of the Jura and the cities Délemont, Porrentruy, and St. Ursanne remained the possession of the bishopric.

The town hall (Rathaus) of Basel

When Basel joined the Eidgenossenschaft in 1501, the relationship between the bishop and the city council became increasingly difficult. The Reformation forced the bishop to move his seat to Porrentruy (Pruntrut in German) in 1527.

The architecture and grandeur of Porrentruy bear witness to the splendour of the prince-bishop and his court. The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) caused a further (political) separation between the Jura’s northern and southern parts of the Jura.

The area (including the northern part of the Jura) of the prince-bishopric remained a Catholic principality of the Holy Roman Empire. Protestant Bern kept its possessions in the southern part of the Jura.

The world would no longer be the same after 1792. Five political constructions succeeded in 13 years.

The northern catholic part of the Jura became the French République rauracienne in 1792. This region merged with the French department Mont-Terrible in 1793. France annexed the southern part of the Jura in 1798 to this department.

The whole area of the prince-bishopric was added to the department of the Haut-Rhin in 1800. This remained the situation until the defeat of Napoleon. Allied troops occupied the area in 1813.

The four great powers decided to divide the territory of the Prince-Bishopric between Bern and Basel (Congress of Vienna 1814-1815). Bern got the entire area and the Laufental of the bishopric minus Birseck as compensation for losing other areas (the new cantons of Vaud and Argovie). The Birseck was assigned to the canton of Basel.

Delémont, Musée d’art et d’histoire. 

The new canton Jura was founded to separate from the canton Bern in 1979. The  Birseck joined the new canton of Basel-Landschaft in 1833. The Laufental left canton Bern in 1994 and joined canton Basel-Landschaft in 1994. Moutier will leave canton Bern in 2026 due to the referendums (2017 and 2021) and will be a part of canton Jura.

(Source: A. Berchtold, Bâle et Europe. Une histoire culturelle, Lausanne 1990).