Interesting facts 

Religion puts its Mark on the Landscape

The northern and southern sides of the World Heritage Region have much in common as far as the landscape is concerned. But in one point they differ fundamentally: in the Valais the countryside is dotted with countless churches, chapels and wayside shrines. In the Bernese Oberland, apart from the village churches, these typical features can be seen nowhere.


The roots of this striking contrast go back to the Reformation. In 1528 the rulers of Bern declared their state to be Protestant: monasteries were dissolved, pictures of saints banned, and mass abolished. But the Valais remained true to the Catholic faith, following a local government decree of 1604; Protestants in the Valais had either to renounce the new faith or emigrate. But in the wake of the counter-Reformation there were changes here too. For example, the idea of local pilgrimages became popular. Magnificent new churches were built in the villages, or old ones completely altered. Outside the villages themselves chapels and shrines were put up as further spiritual attractions. The brisk building activity was favoured by the relative prosperity which the region enjoyed in the 17th and 18th centuries thanks to trade and mercenary service. In its enjoyment of colours and shapes, it also reflected an attitude of life. At the same time it acted as a demonstration of power: sacred architecture and church processions served to differentiate believers from dissenters.