According to legend, the first castle on the site of Grasburg was built by a Roman hunter who saw the massive sandstone spire on an island in the Sense river. He saw a red deer on the cliff over the river and went to catch it. As he rode after the deer a dragon roared out of a cave, but the hunter quickly killed the dragon. The deer then walked up to the hunter and offered his life to the hunter. The hunter allowed the deer to go free and the deer gave him possession of the area. The hunter than built the first castle on the top of the sandstone spire on the island. A bridge was built over the river and became part of the Roman road from Aventicum. The legend continues that after the Roman Empire collapsed, a Walliser robber took over the old Roman castle as a new hideout. He began to hire local villagers to help him expand the castle toward the east. Initially he acted friendly and kind, but when the workers complained of the work or asked for pay, he murdered them and mixed their blood into the mortar. This, according to legend, is why the mortar on the east side is particularly hard. While the Romans lived in the area, there is no archeological evidence of a Roman or early medieval fortification.
Despite the local legends, the first castle on the site may have been a wooden fortification, but the oldest stone walls are from the 11th or 12th century. It was probably built by a Burgundian or Zähringen noble. The castle was first mentioned in 1223 as Grasburc. In the same year, a knight, Otto von Grasburg was mentioned at the castle, followed in 1228 by the knight Kuno von Grasburg. In the 13th century the castle and lands passed to the Kyburgs and then after their family died out in 1263/64 the Habsburgs beat out the Counts of Savoy to inherit it. Under the Habsburgs several Ministerialis (unfree knights in the service of a feudal overlord) families held the castle.
In 1310 Henry VII, the King of Germany, pledged the castle and surrounding Herrschaft to Count Amadeus of Savoy to pay debts. The Counts held the estate for over a century, until the remote location and gradual decay forced them to sell the castle and territory to Bern and Fribourg in 1423. The two cities established a condominium or shared rule over the land. The castle served as the residence and administrative center for the vogts that were appointed by alternating cities. In 1575 the increasingly expensive castle was abandoned and the vogt moved to Schwarzenburg Castle. The castle gradually fell into ruin and in 1845 the Canton of Bern sold the ruins to a private owner. In 1894 the city of Bern bought the ruins and began restoring them. By the spring of 1902, the main tower was about ready to collapse. The Canton spent four years repairing and reinforcing the tower. Another project in 1928-31 repaired and restored other parts of the castle ruins. A third project in 1983-84 restored and repaired the ruins further.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.