The Patristic Period

Christianity reached Switzerland between the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth, by mere laypeople, merchants or soldiers from Italy. Proof of this is the fact that Saint Theodosius, bishop of Octoduro (today Martigny) participated in the Council of Aquilea in 381. Other bishops from Geneva or Coire also attended councils in Italy. In the locality of Payerne di S. Mario, a church was dedicated to the Virgin as early as 587.

The Middle Ages

From the eighth century, monastic foundations abounded. All these foundations (Einsiedeln, Disentis, Payerne, etc.) had strong Marian devotees. Long before the popularization of the Angelus, there was the custom in Switzerland of a time of prayer to the Virgin Mary, announced by the ringing of bells. Everyone would stop working to pray "the kind mother of God and our mother." Eventually the bells were consecrated to Mary (sixteenth century).

The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation was led by Zwingli (†1531) in Zurich and Calvin (†1564) in Geneva. Conversions were often collective, enacted by whole cities at a time. Many Catholic families were exiled, voluntarily or forcibly. Protestants made a point of destroying all the images of Our Lady.

Catholics did what they could to preserve a few. They kept the city of Kappel and maintained their hegemony in the canton of Ticino.

A Marian Renewal...among Catholics

In the cantons that had remained Catholic, a new blossoming of Marian shrines took place, characterized by the use of Nordic Baroque Art.

Since the nineteenth century, other shrines dedicated to Mary have also flourished in predominantly Protestant regions.

...and among Protestants

In 1979, the working arm of French-speaking Switzerland's commissions for the liturgy published a guide for the celebration of the Protestant worship service in those regions. The Virgin Mary is discreetly mentioned in the liturgy.

In the canton of Neuchatel, a few women in the Reformed Church in French-speaking Switzerland formed the Community of Grandchamps, in the 1930's. The Sisters are close to the Brothers of Taize in France. The Virgin Mary has a significant place in their liturgy.

F. Breynaert