Pro Patria and Swiss Castles

Switzerland - Scott #B463-B466 (1979)
Switzerland – Scott #B463-B466 (1979)

Pro Patria, officially Stiftung PRO PATRIA Schweizerische Bundesfeierspende, is a Swiss patriotic and charitable organization. Its purpose is to give meaning to the Swiss National Day (Schweizer Bundesfeiertag in German, Fête nationale suisse in French, Festa nazionale svizzera in Italian, and Fiasta naziunala svizra in Romansh), August 1, by collecting donations to the benefit of social and cultural works of national public interest.

Pro Patria was founded in 1909 as the Verein Schweizerische Bundesfeier-Spende (Swiss Federal Celebration Donation Association) by a group of public-spirited citizens led by the merchant Albert Schuster. The association’s efforts were supported by the Swiss federal government and the Post Office, and Pro Patria coordinated its activities with the government during the first decades of its operation. The first Federal Celebration Collection yielded 29,000 Swiss francs and was used to support flood victims.

Aerial view from a hot-air balloon of the castle of Porrentruy, Switzerland. Photo taken on May 27, 2012.

In the patriotic atmosphere brought about by the outbreak of World War I, Pro Patria‘s collections gained the support of other associations and their volunteers, including the Swiss Samaritans’ Union, military associations, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation, Pro Juventute and the Swiss Hoteliers’ Association. Soon, though, Swiss schoolchildren became (and have remained) the greatest part of Pro Patria volunteers.

Until long after World War II, most of Pro Patria‘s donation campaigns were aimed at supporting disadvantaged groups and minorities. The Swiss Red Cross was the beneficiary of eleven collection campaigns (1912, 1917, 1937, 1944, 1950, 1957, 1963, 1969, 1975, 1981 and 1987). Destitute mothers (1926, 1939, 1945, 1951, 1958, 1966, 1974, 1980 and 1985) and Swiss women’s associations (1956, 1970, 1979, 1989 und 1995) were also frequently the beneficiaries of collection campaigns. Swiss soldiers and their families benefited from collections in 1916, 1918, 1929, 1940 and 1968, and the association was particularly supported by the army. In 1940, General Henri Guisan authorized the wear of the Federal Celebration Badge with military uniform; it is still the only civilian badge to benefit from such authorization. Organizations of Swiss citizens living abroad received Pro Patria donations in 1956, 1970, 1979, 1989 and 1995.

Oron Castle in Switzerland. Photo taken in April 2011.

In 1991, Pro Patria was reestablished as a foundation.

Pro Patria collects donations principally through the sale of postage stamps, postcards and badges, in cooperation with the Swiss Post.

Post offices sold Federal Celebration postcards from 1910 to 1960 and postage stamps since 1936. The price of these cards and stamps (marked with “Pro Patria” since 1952) exceeds their denomination, with the surcharge representing a donation to Pro Patria. A .pdf file picturing all of the Pro Patria stamps issued up to the 2016 issue can be accessed on the organization’s website. The stamps in 2016, 2017, and 2018 have each featured castles once again.

Since 1923, Pro Patria has also produced an annual Federal Celebration Badge (Bundesfeierabzeichen, 1.-August-Abzeichen), which is sold in post offices and by volunteers.

Semi-postal stamps are issued for Pro Juventute, a charitable foundation in Switzerland established in 1912. It is dedicated to supporting the rights and needs of Swiss children and youth. Since 1913, the Swiss post office has issued an annual charity stamp series to support the work of Pro Juventute. Until the 1970s, the semi-official policy of institutionalizing Yenish parents and having their children adopted by more “normal” Swiss citizens was carried out by Pro Juventute on behalf of the Swiss government. The name of this program was Kinder der Landstrasse (“children of the road”).

Switzerland – Scott #B463-B466 (1979) first day cover, Fleetwood cachet

Swiss Post released a set of four Pro Patria stamps on May 25, 1979, concluding a series begun in 1976 featuring Swiss castles. Printed using the photogravure process and perforated 11½ on phosphorescent paper, this set pictured the following castles:

  • Scott #B463:  Oron Castle — 20 + 10 Swiss centimes (4,475,000 printed)
  • Scott #B464:  Spiez Castle — 40 + 20 Swiss centimes (8,432,000 printed)
  • Scott #B465:  Porrentruy Castle — 70 + 30 Swiss centimes (2,950,000 printed)
  • Scott #B466:  Rapperswil Castle — 80 + 40 Swiss centimes (3,016,000 printed)

I had originally planned to feature just one of these castles (probably Schloss Spiez as I’ve actually visited this particular castle). However, as there is just so little information online about each one (well, for the first three anyway), I have decided to include all four in today’s article. Switzerland is one of my favorite countries to visit (second only to New Zealand) so I would like to visit a few more of the castles featured on Pro Patria stamps over the years.

Oron Castle

Switzerland - Scott #B463 (1979) Oron Castle
Switzerland – Scott #B463 (1979) Oron Castle

Oron Castle (Château d’Oron) is a castle in the municipality of Oron in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland, listed as a Swiss heritage site of national significance. The castle was built in the 13th century. It was totally rebuilt in second half of the 15th century and renovated several times in the 17th century. In 1801, it was acquired the Roberti family of Moudon, and in 1870 it was bought by Adolphe Gaiffe. Beginning in 1880, a library was built in the castle. Today it houses 17,000 volumes and is one of the largest private collections of French novelists of the 18th century in Europe. The castle was bought in 1936 by the Association pour la Conservation du château d’Oron, which was founded to preserve the castle two years earlier.

Spiez Castle

Switzerland – Scott #B464 (1979) Spiez Castle

Spiez Castle (Schloss Spiez) is located in the municipality of Spiez of the Swiss canton of Bern. It is listed as a Swiss heritage site of national significance. According to Elogius Kiburger, the author of the Strättliger Chronicle, in 933 the King of Burgundy, Rudolph II, built the castle. Shortly thereafter, the Freiherr von Strättligen settled there. Portions of the current castle shield walls and main tower were built during the 12th century and by the 13th century the town of Spiez existed outside the castle walls. By 1280, the castle was listed as an Imperial fief under Vogt Richard de Corbières. In 1289, the Freiherr von Strättligen was co-owner of the castle along with a succession of other noble families.

In 1308, King Albert I of Habsburg was murdered by his nephew Duke John Parricida at Windisch on the Reuss. As part of their retaliation for the murder, the Habsburgs withdrew half of the Spiez fief from Thüring von Brandis and granted the whole fief to Johannes von Strättligen. Thirty years later, in 1338, Johannes sold the castle, town, church and surrounding villages to Johann II von Bubenberg who was the Schultheiss of Bern. By 1340, the Bubenberg appointed vogt took orders from Bern, but was obligated to raise troops for the Habsburgs. As Bern was de facto independent from their former overlords, the Habsburgs, this created an unstable situation which remained for over 40 years. After the Bernese and Swiss Confederation victory over the Habsburgs in the Battle of Sempach in 1386, the Habsburgs gave up their land claims west of the Aare, which included Spiez.

Switzerland - Scott #B464 (1979) first day cover

Switzerland – Scott #B464 (1979) first day cover

The castle and surrounding land remained with the Bubenberg family until their extinction in 1506, when it was acquired by Ludwig von Diesbach. Von Diesbach held it for ten years before Ludwig von Erlach acquired the castle and lands. The von Erlach family ruled the town and villages until the 1798 French invasion. After the invasion and the creation of the Helvetic Republic, the von Erlach family lost their land rights and jurisdiction over the village, but retained ownership of the castle until 1875.[2]

The old castle was expanded in several stages during the Late Middle Ages but little is known about the specific dates or what was changed. In 1600, the great hall and the northern buildings were expanded and renovated. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the south “New Castle” was built and then expanded and redecorated in the late Baroque style. The castle was surrounded with gardens, vineyards and forests. After 1875, the castle passed through several owners until a foundation bought the castle and associated church. The gardens are now open to the public and the castle rooms are used for conferences, concerts, exhibitions and other events.

Spiez Castle and neighboring castle church in Switzerland. Photo taken on March 20, 2011.

The massive square keep was built around 1200. The lower walls are about 3 m (9.8 ft) thick though they become thinner higher up. At the bottom it is 11.3 m × 11.2 m (37 ft × 37 ft). The tower increased in height several times over the following centuries before the final construction phase in 1600. In this final phase the tower was raised and crowned with hipped roof that brought its total height to 39 meters (128 ft).

The keep was originally surrounded by several free standing wooden buildings. Over the following centuries these buildings were replaced with a stone curtain wall and a ring of two concentric ditches. A gatehouse was built adjacent to the keep, which opened toward the west.

Around 1300. a residence wing was added north of the keep. It was probably lower at that time than it is today and was connected to the keep by a wooden gallery. During the second half of the 13th century, a number of tournaments must have been held around Spiez Castle because the visiting knights carved graffiti into the plaster of the main chimney. In the 14th century, an additional north wing was added onto the residence wing.

From the 15th to the 18th century, the castle was gradually renovated to its present appearance. The gallery was expanded and another story was added to the residence hall. The Trüel was added to the north-west side of the keep in the 16th century. Then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Baroque “New Castle” was built on the south side of the gatehouse.

Porrentruy Castle

Switzerland – Scott #B465 (1979) Porrentruy Castle

Porrentruy Castle is a castle in the municipality of Porrentruy of the Canton of Jura in Switzerland and is a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Construction of the castle took place between the mid-thirteenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century. The oldest part is the thirteenth century Réfous Tower (Tour Réfous). Fourteenth century ramparts survive on the western and northern sides.

Since 1271 belonging to the bishopric of Basel, the castle served as exile residence of the prince-bishops of Basel from 1527 until 1792. The bishops had been exiled from Basel during the Swiss Reformation in 1529, whereas they were able to keep most of their territories outside the city.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the Romanesque chapel within the castle walls was destroyed.

Rapperswil Castle

Switzerland – Scott #B466 (1979) Rapperswil Castle

Rapperswil Castle (Schloss Rapperswil) was built in the early 13th century AD by the House of Rapperswil in the former independent city of Rapperswil. It is located on the eastern Zürichsee respectively western Obersee lakeshore in Rapperswil, a locality of the municipality Rapperswil-Jona in the canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland. Since 1870, the castle has been home to the Polish National Museum established by Polish émigrés, including the castle’s lessee and restorer, Count Wladyslaw Broel-Plater. Schloss Rapperswil and the museum are listed in the Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance as Class A objects of national importance.

The medieval Altstadt of the city of Rapperswil is dominated by the castle perched atop a longish rocky hill on the peninsula called Lindenhof hill on its western side respectively Herrenberg on its eastern side where the castle was built. It is surrounded on three sides by the Lake Zürich and by those upper section on the northwestern Seedamm area. Thus, the castle was well protected, dominating the old town of Rapperswil, and controlling the water way between Walensee and Lake Zürich on its most narrow part, as well as the medieval Gotthard Pass route between Lombardy and Zürich, and the Jakobsweg (Way of St. James) to the Einsiedeln Abbey.

The castle is situated next to Stadtpfarrkirche Rapperswil and the present cemetery chapel, and (to the east) neighbored by former small castle, as of today the Stadtmuseum Rapperswil.

The ruined Rapperswil castle, view of the palas and so-called Gügegliturm tower from the courtyard, drawing by Heinrich Keller around 1848.

Rapperswil Castle dates back around 1200 to 1220 AD, and it was first mentioned in 1229 on occasion of the foundation of the Rüti Abbey. The castle and the fortifications of the former locus Endingen (given by the Einsiedeln Abbey) were built by Count Rudolf II and his son Rudolf III von Rapperswil, when the nobility of Rapperswil moved from Altendorf (Alt-Rapperswil) across the lake to the other side of the so-called Seedamm, maybe to establish their own parish church and to avoid to go the mess, by crossing the lake, in St. Martin Busskirch. As before in the 11th and 12th century AD, the family acted as Vogt of the Einsiedeln Abbey. Sandstone from the Lützelau island was used to build the castle, the town walls and the city.

The chapel adjoining the ossuary dates back to the time when the parish passed from the Busskirch church to the Rapperswil church and accordingly an inner city cemetery was established. The first chapel was associated to the castle, but the chapel was located outside of its walls and separated by a trench. The preceding building of the Liebfrauenkapelle was built as an ossuary around 1220 to 1253. The charnel house was first mentioned as intra cymeterium ecclesia, meaning church in the cemetery.

The Counts of Rapperswil became extinct in 1283 with the death of the 18-year-old Count Rudolf V, after which emperor Rudolf I acquired their fiefs. The Herrschaft Rapperswil proper passed to the house of Homberg represented by Count Ludwig by first marriage of Countess Elisabeth von Rapperswil. Around 1309 the bailiwick passed to Count Rudolf von Habsburg-Laufenburg by second marriage of Countess Elisabeth, the sister of Rudolf V, followed by her son, Count Johann I and his son, Johann II.

Harbour area in Rapperswil, Switzerland,, as seen from Seedamm, Lindenhof hill, Rapperswil castle and Stadtpfarrkirche (St. John’s Church) in the background, Fischmarktplatz to the right. Photo taken on September 23, 2014.

In 1350, an attempted coup by the aristocratic opposition (a central person was Count Johann II) in the city of Zürich was forcefully put down, and the town walls of Rapperswil and the castle were destroyed by Rudolf Brun. Eis-zwei-Geissebei, a Carnival festival held in Rapperswil on Shrove Tuesday, may go back to the siege and destruction of the city of Rapperswil. The battlements and the castle were rebuilt by Albrecht II, Duke of Austria in 1352-1354.

After the extinction of the line of Habsburg-Laufenburg in 1442, the castle was given to the citizens of Rapperswil. Ending the Old Zürich War, Rapperswil was controlled by the Swiss Confederation from 1458 to 1798 as a so-called Gemeine Herrschaft, i.e. under control of two cantons of the Old Swiss Conferation and their representant, a Vogt, and Rapperswil castle became an administration site respectively military base and prison.

Over the course of time, the castle fell into disrepair. In 1870, the castle was leased for 99 years from the local authorities by a post-November 1830 Uprising Polish émigré, Count Wladyslaw Broel-Plater (a relative of Emilia Plater, a heroine of the same 1830 Uprising), who had been in Switzerland since 1844. At his own expense he restored the castle, and on October 23, 1870, the Polish National Museum was established. Except for two hiatuses (1927 to 1936 and 1952 to 1975), the museum has existed to the present day — an outpost of Polish culture in Switzerland.

Rapperswil (Switzerland) : Lindenhof hill and the castle (Schloss) and Stadtpfarrkirche, and on lakeshore the Curti building, as seen from Zürichsee-Schiffahrtsgesellschaft (ZSG) ship MS Helvetia on Zürichsee in Switzerland. Photo taken on September 9, 2015.

In 2008, some Rapperswil residents petitioned local authorities to evict the Polish Museum from its home in the castle, as two historical museum locations (Stadtmuseum and Polish Museum) estimated to be too expensive. The museum was conducting a petition campaign to retain the Museum in the castle, but although the Stadtmuseum (museum of local history was kept respectively renewed at its location at the nearby Breny house at Herrenberg in 2012, indeed, the future of the Polish Museum remains unsure.

Rebuilt by Duke Albert II, since 1354 the castle forms an almost equilateral triangle, and each corner of the castle is reinforced with a tower. The highest tower in the southwest is the donjon, commonly called Gügeliturm in Swiss-German language, where the so-called Hochwächter warned the residents against approaching danger or fire. The five-sided Zeitturm, a clock tower in the east, houses three bells and beside a sundial and two large clocks. Between these two towers the castle’s six-story palais is situated. In addition, ramparts respectively battlements are leading to the third tower in the northwest, the so-called Pulverturm (powder tower). From 1698 to 1837 there was a drawbridge, at the present lower gate towards the former castle chapel. The French revolutionary troops plundered the castle’s interior in 1798.

Inside the castle’s palais, there is located next to the Polish Museum the Schloss Restaurant. After hours visits are available by appointment, as well as guided tours for groups, although the castle is just partially accessible for the public. The impressing Rittersaal (knight’s hall) and the historical wooden architecture, as well some pictures and tapestry include further points of interest.

The city and local board of Rapperswil-Jona initiated in 2011 a new service and operating concept for the Rapperswil castle to provide the site as a touristic attraction and meeting place, and thus recognizable as a brand. For this purpose, the tower, the battlements and the herb garden were opened to the public.

Lower portal of Schloss (castle) in Rapperswil (Switzerland), as seen from Lindenhof, Schlossweg and Stadtpfarrkirche (St. John’s Church) in the background. Photo taken on November 4, 2012.

In 981 AD. the oldest vineyard on Zürichsee lake shore, situated on the southern slope of the Lindenhof hill which is named Schlossberg was mentioned for the first time. On the castle’s terrace, the eastern part of the so-called Lindenhof hill-square, the Polish freedom pillar is situated, as a sign of Switzerland’s solidarity with people who struggle for their freedom, as well a tiny rose garden. From there is also an impressing view over the medieval town of Rapperswil, upper and lower Lake Zürich, on the Seedamm and the wooden bridge from Rapperswil to Hurden and the Frauenwinkel protected area, and towards the Glarus Alps, as well as to the Bachtel mountain. Among other traditions, Eis-zwei-Geissebei is celebrated on Lindenhof, at the Rathaus and Castle when in the evening all regional Guggenmusik (carnival marching bands) gather to celebrate a roaring concert. On the northern side of the Lindenhof plateau stretches a supervised Deer park with 10 to 15 Dama dama down towards the Kempratnerbucht which is a reminder of the legend of the castle’s founding.

It is also assumed a predecessor building, a Roman era watchtower in conjunction with the Vicus Centum Prata, but for the present there are no archaeological findings. Due to the structural conditions, there never significant archaeological excavations were carried out, incidentally at the entire area of the Lindenhof and Herrenberg area. Likewise, there are few reliable data for the construction, only the renovations and the function of the castle are therefore secured by historical sources.

Rapperswil Castle and the Polish Museum are listed in the Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance, as well as the historical lake crossings and settlements, as Class A objects of national importance.

Switzerland - Scott #B464 (1979)
Switzerland – Scott #B464 (1979)
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