Culture | Religion

The reformation in Graubünden

The Walser are catholics! The following assumption is common whereever the faifth of the migrants and their descendents is being discussed: The Walser however are catholic. This is true for the larger part of the settlers in the Walser regions. The Walser remained true to their ancestor’s faifth in the Italian valleys south of the Monte Rosa, in Pomatt, Bosco-Gurin, Sarganserland, Triesenberg and Vorarlberg.

The descendents of the settlers in the Bernese Oberland, Werdenberg and other valleys in Graubünden are an exception. In 1528, the council in Bern decided to obide the reformation. So the question of confession was none for the Walser settlements in the Bernese Oberland. This question was very different in Graubünden, though where every municipality was free in its decisions concerning confessions. Therefore, the followingen extracts only relate to the Walser regions in Graubünden.

The first protestant municipality

The municipalities in the Walser regions were the first to adopt the new confession. The isolated St. Antänien is said to be the first place in Prättigau to take on the protestant confession as early as 1524. Jakob Spreiter who had come from the neighbouring Montafon as priest in 1517 acted as reformer in St. Antönien.


The reformation’s expansion

Very soon Spreiter expanded his reformation to Klosters and Davos.  Probably also Langwies and St. Peter. Only little is known about the reformation in Tschiertschen, Praden, Malix and Parpan but all these villages followed the reformation already in the beginning of the 16th century. However, the development in Churwalden was very different. The new confession only gained ground very slowly in the former cloistral village and a minority even remained catholic. As a distinctive feature the catholics and protestants jointly used the former cloistral church until 1970.

There is only little known about the reformation in Rheinwald an Avers. One annalist however does count Splügen and Hinterrhein to those municipalities that followed the reformation movement early (1530-1535).

The new confession could not gain ground in the upper part of Vorderrheintal. Only in the lower part near Ilanz did the municipalities follow the reformation; including the places influenced by Walser like Valendas, Versam, Tenna and Safiental as well as the Roman speaking Fidaz.

Obersaxen- a German-speaking enclave and Walser colony in the Roman-speaking area of the Vorderrheintal remained true to the old confession as well as the dialect „Obarsäxar Titsch“up to today.

Vals- today world wide known through the water of the St. Petersquelle (spring), Vals was a remote mountain valley in the 16th century. German-speaking Walser lived in many scattered farms and settlements. Their neighbours in Lugnez spole Roman and the route out of the valley was extremely difficult. Only in 1881 was Vals conected via a road to Ilanz. This is why the inhabitants were geared to the south for centuries. They exchange more with their Walser neighbours in the Rheinwald due to the common language. The path to Rheinwald led over the 2507 metres high Valserberg to Hinterhein and the San Bernardino further to Italy. The question is at hand: how could the change of confession be an issue in such a remote area? The reformation also passed Vals and while some remained catholic others became protestants.

The peope in Vals probably followed their neighbours in Safien and Rheinwald.  The priest of Vals, Johannes Lutta (1520-23) had a great part in this reformation and he could reach a great number of people. They agreed to take off the pictures in the St. Peterskirche (church) which was followed by violent conflicts within the population. The new protestants threw a cross into the river and tried to destroy the chruch’s enterior. But the sacristan who believed in the „old“ faifth hid the key and ran to a farm asking for help. In the end the „new“ had to give way to the „old“ believer. However, another rather legendary account recalls a more peacful movement.

Municipalities and the question of confession

A religious talks in Ilanz (1526) did not bring any clearity but anounced freedom for both confessions. If the mayority decided for one of the two the church followed which meant that the confession could change from one locality to the other. Of course, the local priest had a great influence on this decision and if he changed most of the inhabitant followed; or they considerately waited for the catholic priest to be dead before reforming. In any case did the relationship between priest and people play an important role.

Freedom above anything

Most of the regions influenced by Walser changed to the new confession: Davos, Wiesen, Prättigau, Schanfigg, Churwaldnertal, Rheinwald, Avers, Safien, Tenna, Versam and Valendas. Furhter Walser settlements like Fidaz, Mutten, Says and Maienfeld followed. Vals and Obersaxen as well as some Roman-speaking places like Vrin and Tschamutt remained catholic. It is no coincident that most of the Walser regions in Graubünden followed the refomation. Especially the Walser part of the population placed the independence from secular to clerical leaders above anything else. Today, most of the former protestant municipalities are mixed today.

(Extracts taken from a report by Josias Florin, Maienfeld in: Die Walser, Ein Arbeitsheft für Schulen, Verlag Wir Walser, 3. Auflage, 1998)

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