Thomas Edward Wilkinson in Berne

Thomas Wilkinson first visited Berne as Bishop in the summer of 1886, during his predecessor, Bishop Titford's, last illness.


Tuesday is the day to see Berne. It is then that the country people flock to market with their endless procession of dog-drawn carts, bringing every conceivable country product and manufacture. The bears in the pit at the end of the street are said to be the barometer of Berne. When they climb their pole mountaineers may climb the mountains, when they stay below it is better for Alpine climbers to do the same. The Old Catholic church in Berne is a fine modern building of plainly decorated style. It was built by the Roman Catholics, but given by the Government to the Old Catholics. This has made the Romans very bitter, and not without reason. Our Legation used to attend the English service here, the church being lent to us by Bishop Hertzog. But so strong a feeling existed on the part of the Roman Legations that the British Minister withdrew with his staff, and for the past year had been without any place in which to hold service. An English church is now (1906) in course of construction through the efforts of Sir Cunningham Greene. In the Old Catholic church holy-water stoups are placed at the entrance; stations of the cross hang upon the walls; a red light burns before the pyx; figures in stone of SS. Peter and Paul stand on either side of the altar; and a figure of the Good Shepherd in stone over the pulpit.

From Berne I travelled to Lausanne....

From Geneva I went to Thun, Interlachen, and Grindelwald, at each of which places we have season chaplaincies ; in fact, all Switzerland is studded - mountains, lake-sides, and valleys - with what I call my "button mushroom churches," for they spring up all over that country, and sometimes almost in a night! On my way I ascended the Schynige Platte, from which a fine view of the Oberland is obtained. A farmer's son at Grindelwald told me that corn and apple trees will grow now in that district, whereas in his father's day, when the glaciers came much further down into the valley, neither could be cultivated. His father, who died this spring at the age of seventy-six, told him that this would take place again when the glaciers come down, as they are sure to do, in course of time. Sleeping at the Mänlichen, then a rough hut far above the Wengern Alp Hotel, a grand panorama of the Jungfrau and the Oberland giants was obtained. The whole range, from the Titlis to Diablerets, lay in view. When in that neighbourhood I saw several rare birds, ring-ousels, snow-buntings, and, much to my delight, several Cornish choughs.


After confirming (at Lausanne) I left for Berne, and visited Dr.Hertzog, the Old Catholic bishop for Switzerland. I had a long talk with him upon the subject of our Legation having withdrawn from attending our services in his church, and the consequent withdrawal of our chaplain. In expressing my regret, I told him that the step was taken before I came into office. We discussed the difficulties of the Old Catholics at Lucerne, in which he asked my help. I promised to write to the Hausers, who are the large hotel proprietors there, asking their influence in removing the Old Catholic disabilities existing in that place. He also asked my help in England in aid of his Student Fund. A student can be trained for 1000 francs a year. Bishop Hertzog is a noteworthy man, evidently doing well, and is a born leader of men, as his name indicates.


From Freiburg I went to Berne, staying with Mr. Leveson-Gower, attached to the Legation. I received his little son into the Church in the cathedral of Berne, the old dean being present. Mr. Leveson-Gower wished the additional name of Clarence to be given him, being descended from the Duke of that name, - said to have met his end in a butt of malmsey wine - but as the names of Osbert Charles Gresham had been already given him at his baptism, he had to be content with them! Mr. Leveson-Gower was taking much interest in the sepulchres of our fathers in the Berne cemetery. Several stones record mountain accidents. Mrs. Arbuthnot - the bride who was killed by lightning near Murren - lies in this cemetery, the stone upon which she was sitting at the time lying over her grave. Mr. Leveson-Gower took me to see a church near the Rathhaus built about the fourteenth century, but never quite completed, and never probably used as a church. It was cut up into floors and used as a lumber store. He was anxious to obtain this as a gift from the town, spend £1000 upon it, and put it into usable order as our Anglican church. Mrs. (now Lady) Scott gave a reception at the Legation, Mr. Scott being absent at Berlin, attending the Samoa Conference.


From Zürich I went to Berne. Not a cab or vehicle of any kind at the station. Nothing would turn out in such weather. So with help I had to carry my bags over the Aar bridge to the house I was to stay in the Kirchenfeld on the Thun Road. I ran down to Thun one day from Berne and found it completely snowed up. Judging from appearances, all the inhabitants, save a few enterprising boys who were tobogganing down the deserted streets, in bed and asleep. As the boys did not invite me to join their sport, I returned to Berne by the next train. Mr.St. John, our Chargé d'Affaires at Berne, an interesting, delightful man who has travelled far and seen much, told of it all in a most charmingly quiet and unselfconscious way. He has lately written his interesting reminiscences. His most remarkable journey was from Pekin to England by land, long before the trans-Siberian Railway was dreamed of - a wonderful feat for that day. It took him six weeks to reach the Siberian frontier, thence by sledge, with a young Russian officer carrying dispatches through Siberia to Nishni-Novgorod. They were eighteen days and nights in a sledge, travelling as hard as relays of three horses could lay their legs to the ground - and Russian horses can lay them to the ground. I remember Mr. J. Hubbard, of Petersburg, accustomed to Russian sledge travelling, telling me that upon a journey of only three or four days over the Ural Mountains he had to tie up his jaw tight to prevent his teeth being broken by the shocks over what are called roads! I was not surprised when Mr. St. John told me that he did not sleep for six months afterwards, and had never been altogether the same man since. The young Russian officer became delirious at the end of the first week, which terribly aggravated the difficulties and hardships of the journey.

After a reception I endeavoured to walk our upon the Thun Road, where I found Mr.St John in almost as great a plight as in his journey from Pekin to London. He had got into a deep snowdrift returning from the reception to his house, and would have probably remained there till a thaw set in had I not come along and delivered him out of his distress. North and Central Europe was almost impossible to be travelled over that winter except by a polar bear! However, I had a few more places to visit, and went forward for work to Lausanne and Geneva. Hither came terrible tales of the snowstorms and their perils. An hotel somewhere up in the Jura was reported as buried fifteen feet deep. From many farm-houses tunnels had to be made to cow-houses, stables, and outbuildings to feed the cattle. Whole chalets were completely buried. In one, a man and his wife were found dead; their little child was alive under a table, warmed by a big dog which had curled itself round its young friend.


A long journey (from Davos) in very great cold and snow brought me to Berne.The young bears in the bear-pit were up the tree, which, the Bernese say, is a sign of bad weather. A fine new bridge had been built over the Aar, and a large handsome Palais Federal next the Münster Platz, from which I obtained the finest view I ever had of the Bernese Oberland. From Berne I went to Geneva

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HD - Page last modified 24 December 2007