Saturday, June 21, 2008

Geisskirchli, Chapel of the Goats

On Wednesday I finally got out to the Jura Mountains. As I got about half an hour out of Basel and started to see the mountains, I thought to myself, why haven't I been coming out here more often? It was simply beautiful.
After arriving at Moultier from Basel by train, I got on the bus to Souboz. He was just pulling out but waited for me. And for one of the first times in this little country buses, I didn't have to pay him. My Swiss Pass got me free passage.
One of the strange things about the Jura is that it is French. I had always assumed that Switzerland is trilingual, with many people knowing German, French, and Italian. But really people learn the language of their location. And then they study another language in school, though many are also studying English.
So when I am taking the train out of Basel, the announcer says "Naechste Halt" for "Next Stop." But as I approach Delemont, only half an hour out of Basel, the announcer starts saying, "Prochain Arret" for "Next Stop." This is a bit of a problem because I don't know much French and French speakers, like English speakers, don't like to learn other languages, assuming that most educated people should know their language.
All of that to say that I am now in French-speaking Switzerland and can communicate in only a basic way to the driver. He takes me to the last stop. I fill my water bottle from one of those famous Swiss springs, and he immediately comes out of the bus and dumps my water on the ground and takes me into the bathroom in the garage to get clean water. And so I learn not to trust the water in those springs.
From Souboz I bike down to Le Pichous, where the trailhead is for the Geisskirchli, or Chapel of the Goats. This is another Anabaptist worship place/cave. I could have walked but Hanspeter Jecker figured out that the next bus didn't leave until like 5 pm. So he devised a way for me to get out of their sooner which I'll explain later.
So I bike for awhile, miss the special trail to the cave, and then find it on the way back. The signs pointing to it down at the bottom of the mountain are gone at the moment. So I leave my bike and hike up. You can see the cave and it is another inspiring place. Again, we do not have ancient churches to point to as Mennonites but we do have ancient holy places that God created thousands of years before churches. I find these places holy and inspiring. I am grateful for them and for their beauty.
I kept hiking up, though I think I again missed the trail and followed a gully. I slipped and fell at one point. Finally I got to the top, at about 3000 feet, and what do I see but farms. And a farmhouse with a little hotel and restaurant.
But first I hiked over to the Burkhalter farm, which is still a Mennonite family. That is the second photo, and they are related to Sheldon Burkhalter if you know him. (I forget if I mentioned that he and his wife were at Bienenberg for a number of days when I was. So we would eat together.) Then I hiked through a cow pasture to a beautiful vista overlooking the Pichoux Gorge. Then I reward myself with ice cream and water at the farm. The farmer's wife is very familiar with Mennonites coming. She actually knows some German.
The Jura is the area where many Mennonites fled to from persecution in other parts of Switzerland. There were two aspects to life here. One is that it was simply remote and so it was more difficult to be caught. But the other is that it was ruled by the Prince-Bishop of Basel. I need to find out more about this, but as I understand it Protestant Switzerland tolerated a Roman Catholic Bishop who was also a prince. They probably had no choice but to tolerate him. But apparently eventually he came to rule the high spots over 100o meters or about 3000 feet. He was not inclined to persecute Anabaptists and so they settled here. There are perhaps 10 Mennonite churches here today. And perhaps 5 in other locations.
Back to this language issue. I was surprised to discover that these congregations are increasingly switching from German to French. Again I assumed in Switzerland you spoke both German and French. So these Mennonites from German areas have maintained their German for many years, but now like the Mennonites who after about 150 years in America started to speak English, now they are switching over to French, with all the issues and arguments that go along with that. Some did this already a generation ago, but others like the Sonnenberg congregation, are changing more slowly. And Sonnenberg now has German and French worship in separate locations. (They are one congregation that meets in four different places, something that Mennonites still do here, and what Mennonites, or at least Amish, used to do in America. Though I only know of one congregation meeting in two places.)
I better finish my story. I then hiked down a path that took me down the mountain at unbelievable speed. It was one switchback after another. I have no idea how someone figured out such a trail, but it wasn't bad.
And then for the exciting part. I rode my bike through Le Pichous Gorge, which was simply a gorgeous ride. A creek had cut this gorge through the mountain range, and there were sheer cliffs one either side. It was a thrilling and exhilirating ride. Then I hopped on the train in Glovelier and made my way back to Moultier and then Basel. I highly recommend this.

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