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) in the fifth century. The invasions of Germanic tribes (Alamanni) were the reason and 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 to 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. This was the beginning of the possessions in the Jura, Alsace, Birsdal, and Birseck.

The bishop became the vassal and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire in 1033, the beginning of the Prince-Bishopric which would last until 1798. Emperor Henry II (953-1024) financed the complete renovation of the cathedral, the Münster (what means monastery).

The Prince-Bishopric became the strongest power on the Upper Rhine by the acquisition of St. Ursanne Abbey in 1146 and military expeditions in the thirteenth century,. The area encompassed the Jura, the Sundgau, southern Alsace, Birseck, Birstal, and dispersed possessions in southern Germany.

The bishop chose the side of the Eidgenossen in the Burgundian wars 1476-1477. The Eidgenossen confiscated the southern part of the Jura and the cities Biel and Moutier. The northern part and the cities Délemont, Porrentruy, and St. Ursanne belonged to the bishopric.

When Basel City 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 this city still bear witness to the splendour of the prince-bishop and his court.

The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) led to a further (political) separation between the northern and southern Jura. The area of the prince-bishopric remained a Catholic principality of the Holy Roman Empire. The Confederation and their possessions in the Jura were, in fact, recognized as independent political entities.

The world after 1792 would no longer be the same. Five political constructions would succeed each other in 13 years time, until the area was finally divided between the canton of Bern (the area minus Birseck) and the canton of Basel (Birseck) in 1815.

The northern part of the Jura became the French République rauracienne in 1792, this part was merged with the French department Mont-Terrible in 1793. France annexed the southern part of the Jura in 1797 and merged it with this department.

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

This would remain the situation until the defeat of Napoleon. Allied troops occupied this area in 1813.

The four great powers decided (Congress of Vienna) to divide the Prince-Bishopric between Bern and Basel. The inhabitants had no say.

This history led to the separation from Bern and the new canton of Jura in 1979 and the current political divisions in Moutier and some other villages in the Jura. (Source: A. Berchtold, Bâle et Europe. Une histoire culturelle, Lausanne 1990).