There ought to be a law

Mon, 08. Mar. 2021

Occasionally, one sees a local guest sporting something sartorially problematic, an unfortunate confluence of deep pockets and unclear taste, or simply questionable advice from a helpful, but misguided, boutiquière.

Occasionally, one sees a local guest sporting something sartorially problematic, an unfortunate confluence of deep pockets and unclear taste, or simply questionable advice from a helpful, but misguided, boutiquière. Or someone with more appetite than sense consumes multiple Flämmli at an extended apéro riche, sails seven sheets to the wind down the Promenade, and promptly fertilizes your flower beds. Having observed these phenomena, one could be forgiven for desiring a higher authority to intervene.

Well, if you lived in the 17th century Saanenland, the Chorgericht (morals court) was your deliverance. At the time of the Swiss Reformation (c. 1520), both the Reformed pastors and the political authorities in Protestant cantons wanted to replace the Catholic episcopal courts (Offizialat) that judged matrimonial cases. But they still needed a way of ensuring that parishioners respected the moral mandates and ecclesiastical ordinances, and didn’t gad about like debauchees, so in 1528 Bern instituted the Chorgericht, and rural parish courts soon followed.

These Reformed Chorgerichte had oversight on drunkenness, dancing, bawdiness, adultery, disrespecting Sunday, doctrinal deviations, and occasionally witchcraft. Admonishments, suspension from the Lord’s Supper, fines, imprisonment, banishment, and even the death penalty were punishments provided for in the consistorial laws. Denunciations by parish members were positively encouraged.

During the Thirty Years War (1618- 1648), a money economy took hold of the Saanenland, and the abundant circulation of crowns (Kronen) led to gambling addictions, with high stakes at cards and dice. In 1631, Hans Ansermet and Abraham Haldi played for 30 or 40 crowns each time, with Ansermet eventually losing over 200 crowns. At that time, a cow was valued at 25 crowns. Alcohol consumption grew to excessive proportions.

On New Year’sDay 1614, the two brothers Brand drank a Lagel (flagon) of wine “and many more” over three days. In 1681, on the occasion of a christening in Peter Annen’s house, “three 17-massive Lagel of wine” were drunk, which corresponded to about eighty litres.

Dress splendour was strongly discouraged. In 1632, Peter Frutschi had the unmitigated gall to put velvet piping (Sammetschnüre) on his coat. Around 1688, the Gsteig Chorgericht took a stand against the men’s fashion of wearing a wig (apparently a city thing, and vain). That same year, Hans Reichenbach appeared at the church in Gsteig equipped “with a costly neckerchief and ribbon tufts (Rybänderbüschel) on his shoulders,” no doubt scandalising the entire congregation.

In Saanen in 1689, Joder Buri’s daughters went to the Lord’s table in “overly pretentious clothing and annoying feather caps,” and again in Gsteig around the same time, Madlen Mätzener showed up on her way to church in a man’s hat and “Welsch Gasaggen (Vaudois casaquin) or so-called cottilions.” If that wasn’t enough, Adam Buri’s and Jakob Schmulzi’s wives wore coral necklaces around their necks in the 1690s, and one Jakob Hutzli even had the audacity to sport “a Turkish collar”.

The corrective moral stances of the Chorgerichte could foment simmering resentments against its pastors and judges (Chorrichter), especially by the late 18th century. In 1782, an argument over firewood provision from the community in Abländschen inspired two villagers to vandalise the parish house in protest, and the pastor had to fire a warning shot with his pistol to drive the troublemakers away.

I suppose we should be grateful that the permanent surveillance and humiliating punishments of the Chorgerichte faded away in the mid-19th century, with Appenzell Ausserrhoden finally abolishing the last in 1875. Though manners may ‘maketh’ man, social shaming can be painful on the receiving end. And it just wouldn’t do to have too much of it in this annus pestilenti.

ALEX BERTEA

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