|Bishopric of Sion|
Évêché de Sion
|589 - present|
Council of Princes
|Transferred from Martigny||589|
|Count of Valais||999|
|Secular rights abolished||1798|
The Bishopric of Sion is a Roman Catholic diocese based in Sion in Valais, Switzerland. Originally based in Martigny (during Roman times called "Octodurum"), the see was moved to Sion in 589 to be away from the sporadic inundations of the Rhône and Drance Rivers.
The bishops of Sion were frequently in dispute with the nearby Abbey of St Maurice from an early date. The abbey agitated strongly for its independence from the bishops, although the abbot of St Maurice was personally united with the Bishopric by several men. Wilcahrius (764 - 780), the former Archbishop of Vienne, was the first. St Alteus obtained a papal bull of exemption for the abbey in 780.
In 999 the bishops obtained temporal power after King Rudolph III of Burgundy gave the bishops the County of Valais to Bishop Hugo (998 - 1017). This made the Bishops the most powerful men in the Upper Rhône when the line of kings of Burgundy became extinct. This also lead to violent disputes with neighbouring states, as the bishops attempted to spread their temporal power as far as their ecclesiastical border. The abbey of St Maurice, with several large territorial holdings in the Lower Valais, bitterly and effectively checked the bishops' expansions towards the Lower Rhône. Further problems were caused as the bishops were almost exclusively drawn from the nobility of Savoy and Valais and were often drawn into their petty disputes. Lastly the vassal lords of the Valais resisted the rule of the bishops from their mountain-top castles.
Further struggles emerged from the wealthy communities in the Upper Valais, known as the Seven Tenths. The need for their support in their struggles against Savoy lead the bishops grant to the communities larger and greater political rights. Bishop William IV of Rarogne (1437 - 1457) was forced to give the communities complete civil and judiciary independence in the Treaty of Naters in 1446. Bishop Walter II Supersax of the Fluhe (1457 - 1482) joined the Swiss confederates in their war against the Duke of Burgundy and his ally Savoy, and managed to conquer a lot of territory in the Lower Valais. Bishop Jobst of Silinen (1482 - 1496) was forced to flee Valais when the Seven Tenths revolted.
Bishop Matthias Scheiner (1499 - 152]), a noted humanist, feared that the growing eastward pressure of the French would endanger the independence of the Swiss. He placed the military of the diocese under the control of the papacy, and in 1510 forged a five-year alliance between the Swiss and the Catholic church. For this he was made a cardinal by Pope Julius II. In 1513 he successfully got Sion removed from the suffragancy of the Archbishopric of Tarantaise. Matthias' power was diminished after the Swiss lost the Battle of Marignano in 1515, at which he took part. In 1518 his brothers angered the civilians of Valais sufficiently to revolt and he was forced to flee the diocese.
The Reformation found few supporters in Valais despite the Cantons of Berne, Zürich and Basel sending preachers. In 1529 Bishop Adrian I of Riedmatten (1529 - 1548) forged an alliance with the Catholic cantons of the Swiss against the Protestant ones. In 1531 he took part in the Catholic victory over the Zwinglians at Cappel, thereby saving the Church property in the Swiss lands. The entirety of Valais remained Catholic through the vigourous efforts of Bishops Adrian of Riedmatten, Hildebrand I of Riedmatten (1565 - 1604) and Adrian II of Riedmatten (1604 - 1613), and the abbots of St Maurice.
Both Adrian II and his successor Hildebrand II Jost (1613 - 1638) became involved in disputes over the bishops' rights to secular power. In order to preserve Catholicism in Valais, in 1630 Hildebrand Jost ceded away most of the secular rights, leaving the bishops as largely ecclesiasts. The last remaining vestiges of secular power of the bishops was lost during the French Revolution. After a heroic struggle by the people of Valais against the French revolutionary armies in 1798, Valais was conquered, included in the Helvetic Republic and the remaining secular powers of the bishops were stripped. Bishop John Anthony Blatter (1790 - 1817) retired to Novara. In 1802 Valais was separated from the Helvetic Republic as the Rhodanic Republic, and in 1810 was annexed outright to France. Most monasteries were suppressed by this time.
In 1814 the people of Valais rebelled against the French as allied forces entered the canton. In 1815 Valais joined Switzerland as a canton. As compensation for the loss of secular power, the constitution of 1815 gave the bishops 4 votes in the canton Diet. Disputes arose between the people of the Upper and Lower Valais as the Upper Valais had more power despite having fewer people, which lead to a civil war in 1840. The Lower Valais, ruled by a party hostile to the Church, was defeated. After the defeat of the Sonderbund in 1847 of which Valais took part, the lands and property of the church were seized by the state the following year. In 1856 the moderate party gained power and relations between the government and church improved. In 1880 the church properties were restored, so long as they had not since been sold.