Sacred spaces

Cathédrale de Lausanne

In my years of research I have often come across passages that mention the final resting place of certain ancestors at certain Swiss churches. These passages often date from the 18th century or earlier and as I have not been able to visit all the holy places in question I cannot know if the tombs still exist or ever did.

On a 2010 research trip to western Switzerland I went to Lausanne to see if an ancestor who was said to buried there, still was. It has been documented in family records that Barbara Wyttenbach, mother of David de Büren (1595-1659), who also happens to be my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (I hope that’s enough greats) is buried in the ambulatory of the Cathedral of Lausanne. As there is no ancestor help line at the cathedral, I needed to go there and look for myself.

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After parking in town I made my way up the many steps to the Cathedral. I was dressed for cold weather, and wanted to ditch my winter coat halfway to the top on the unseasonably warm day. Upon making it to the Cathedral, I walked inside and was greeted by a beautiful holy expanse. I walked to the back of the church where I knew the ambulatory to be and started to look at the inscriptions on the tombs I found.

As I made my way around, I saw some names that I recognized like de Loys and de Tscharner, but as yet no de Büren. I held out hope that I would find her name and upon almost exiting the ambulatory, eureka! I became emotional when I found her name, perhaps because I didn’t think I would find her to begin with. She was not listed as de Büren or von Büren but rather as her maiden name of Widenbach (Wyttenbach). She is buried with three of her children from her second marriage, two of whom died in infancy.

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Ambulatory within the Cathedral of Lausanne

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Tomb of Barbara and her three daughters

She was from an old Bernese family, so why is she buried in Lausanne? When she died in 1652, her son David de Büren was chief magistrate of Lausanne for Bern at the time and it appears that he pulled some strings to have her buried in the Cathedral. I think that he wanted to respect his mother’s memory and those of his half-sisters with a burial place of honor.

When I entered the Cathedral initially the door was opened for me by a man begging his next meal. He hoped I would repay his gesture with one of my own in the form of a Franc or two. Upon leaving the Cathedral I found him again and placed a couple of Francs in his cup. It seemed only right, he had after all invited me into a sacred space not just for others but also for my family.

Kloster Gnadenthal

Nicolas de Büren was the son of Jean de Büren and Elisabeth Gräfli (Hofmeister). In 1391 he was a member of the grand council of Bern, had a nice home and was one of the wealthier men of his time. He had made various donations to the local Dominican order and seemed to be a pious man. For reasons that are unclear, Nicolas felt called to take his religious devotion further and entered the seminary.

At the end of 14th century, Nicolas became a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of St. Jean (founded in 1103 and secularized in 1528) in Erlach (Cerlier) a small town on the lake of Biel. He would later be elevated to the level of Priest at St. Jean as indicated in documents from 1405, 1407 and 1428.

His two daughters Anna and Agnès were also called to a religious life and would themselves enter the convent of Gnadenthal (Val-de-Grace) in Aargau (founded in 1270 and secularized in 1802).

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Agnès would become its abbess and in recognition for her saintly life would be beatified in 1405.

A good friend raised an interesting question that had not crossed my mind, “Which Pope beatified her?” During the Western Schism in the Catholic Church (1378-1417), there was a Pope in Rome and an Antipope in Avignon.

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Palais des Papes, Avignon

Agnès could have therefore been beatified by either Pope Innocent VII of Rome, or Antipope Benedict XIII of Avignon. If she were beatified by the Antipope her blessedness is probably not recognized by the catholic church today.

Berner Münster

The cathedral of Bern was for many of my ancestors the center of religious and civic life. Our coat of arms exists in numerous stain glass windows as well as carved into pews.

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Stained glass window commemorating the marriage of Ernst von Büren (1858-1928) and Ida von Bondeli – Photo thanks to Christoph Hurni

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One of the pews within the cathedral that bear the family crest

The most important family link to the cathedral of Bern is the final resting place of Louis de BürenLouis was the second son of Pierre de Büren (1425-1458) and Christine de Seftigen (1416-?). He was a figure of incomparable energy and drive.

As a young man he fought at the battles of Morat in 1476 and Nancy in 1477 against the Burgundian army of Charles the Bold. In both battles he distinguished himself by his valor and bravery. He is mentioned in Diebold Schilling’s Grosse Burgunderchronik, which focuses on the history of Bern and Burgundian Wars.

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Battle of Morat

He was later Magistrate of Wimmis, Burgdorf and Thun as well a Bernese Senator. He was a devoted friend of France, and in 1500 left his official duties to fight for French King Louis XII in his war against Milan and Naples. For this act he was officially rebuked, stripped of his duties and fined. He would later return to favor in the eyes of Bern.

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Altar within the Cathedral of Bern. The de Büren family crest is visible in the center of the floor.

Louis would not have any children and would give his fortune to his nephews, whom he adopted. He would die in 1526 and be buried in the Cathedral of Bern, where he rests still.

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