Local History

Porrentruy, Castle Prince-Bishopric. Photo: TES.

The Prince-Bishopric of Basel

The history of the bishopric of Basel (Basilia) 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 a good refuge and had some defensive walls.

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 bishopric 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, which lasted until 1798.

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

The Prince-Bishopric was the strongest power on the Upper Rhine by the acquisition of 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 in southern 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 belonged to the bishopric.

When Basel joined the Eidgenossenschaft in 1513, 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 northern and the southern part 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. 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 time.

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

The whole area of the prince-bishopric was added to the department of the Haut-Rhin in 1800.

This would remain 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 minus Birseck as compensation for the loss of other areas (Vaud and Argovie). The Birseck was assigned to the canton of Basel.

This history is the main cause of the separation from Bern and the creation of the new canton Jura in 1979 and the present-day political divisions in Moutier and some other villages in the Jura.

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