41: Saint-Ursanne

When people think of little Swiss villages, the picture floating about in their minds is probably very much like Saint-Ursanne, a tiny 12th Century village we tramped through this weekend. Saint-Ursanne’s warped clay-topped buildings back into the Jura Mountains white limestone cliffs, and overlook the River Doubs and beyond to picturesque grazing pastures.

The train passes above Saint-Ursanne, more than through it, and so the town is a charming 10-minute hike down the Jura cliffs over this cobblestone street. The walk back up is about 30 minutes. We did see a bus take passengers down, but not up. This would be in keeping with Swiss tradition, which is to climb inclines at every opportunity. I’m joking. I’m sure there is a bus ride up the hill, but not that we saw.

The atmosphere here is lazy, with an almost Spanish sensibility, although we were mindful that this is still the shoulder season in the tourist calendar, and the town’s proliferation of antique shops and cafes suggest the place is packed with travellers at the peak of the season.

It is a lovely place to while away an afternoon.

For those interested in church history, it is home to the Maison de la Dime, the area’s bishop-prince’s house where the church’s tithe was held. A tithe today is understood as one-tenth of  a person’s income that is given to God, or because God does not trouble himself with banking, what with owning all the real estate there is, and being able to make more should the need arise, the money is given to the church. Some churches today accept tithing through debit machines and I am sure automatic withdrawals can be arranged, but back in the 1500s, tithing was a somewhat messier business as it represented one-tenth of all livestock and crops. This necessitated the prince-bishop’s storehouse.

Non-church-goers back home in Canada/U.S.: Keep your goats, sheep and other livestock at home should you decide to visit a church. Most churches consider visitors akin to houseguests and do not ask for your tithe, be it in money, cheque, plastic or livestock.

Visiting an historic church in Europe: We’ve never been asked to pay admission, although a few churches keep out a donation box.

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