Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sacred Space

In my years of research I have often come across passages that mention the final resting place of certain ancestors as this or that Swiss Cathedral. These passages often date from the 18th century or earlier so I don’t know if the tombs still exist or ever did.

On a recent trip to Switzerland I went to Lausanne to see if an ancestor who was said to buried there, still was. It has been documented in family records that Barbara Wyttenbach, mother of David de Büren, who also happens to be my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother (I hope that’s enough greats) is buried in the ambulatory of the Cathedral of Lausanne. As there is no ancestor help line at the cathedral, I needed to go to Switzerland and look for myself.

Barbara de Wyttenbach (1585-1652)

Cathedral of Lausanne Ambulatory © Sacred Spaces

After parking in town I made my way up the many steps to the Cathedral. I was dressed for cold weather, and wanted to ditch my winter coat halfway to the top on the unseasonably warm day. Upon making it to the Cathedral, I walked inside and was greeted by a beautiful holy expanse. I walked to the back of the church where I knew the ambulatory to be and started to look at the inscriptions on the tombs I found.

As I made my way around, I saw some names that I recognized like de Loys and de Tscharner, but as yet no de Büren. I held out hope that I would find her name and upon almost exiting the ambulatory, eureka! I was oddly emotional when I found her name, perhaps because I didn’t think I would find her to begin with. She was not listed as de Büren or von Büren but rather as her maiden name of Widenbach (Wyttenbach). She is buried with three of her children, who died in infancy, from her second marriage to François Güder.

She was from an old Bernese family, so why is she buried in Lausanne? When she died in 1652, her son David de Büren was chief magistrate of Lausanne for Bern and it appears that he pulled some strings to have buried in the Cathedral. I think that he wanted to respect his mother’s memory and those of his half-sisters with a burial place of honor.

Below is a photo of the tomb as well as my interpretation of the Latin inscription.

When I entered the Cathedral initially the door was opened for me by a man begging his next meal. He hoped I would repay his gesture with one of my own in the form of a Franc or two. Upon leaving the Cathedral I found him again and placed a couple of Francs in his cup. It seemed only right, he had after all invited me into a sacred space not just for others but also for my family.

Beyond Survival

Having detailed family archives are indispensable when it comes to discovering personal historical narrative but it is also instructive for a broader understanding of family history.

For many years the de Büren family, not unlike other families of the time, was always on the verge of extinction. Between warfare, disease, and high maternal mortality the continuation of the family was by no means assured in Switzerland of the Late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance.

Within the family much has been made of David de Büren (1615-1659) starting a new era of prosperity with his marriage to Marguerite de Bonstetten. This union led directly to the acquisition of the Château de Vaumarcus and the title of Baron for his descendants.

Whatever the reason – moving away from the city, new found wealth, greater political influence, or simply fate – family life expectancy and birth rates improved dramatically with David’s descendants.

On average the life span of de Büren women increased by 23 years from the 17th to the 18th century. More importantly male births increased from 12 in the 17th century to 27 in the 18th century. As a result of longer life spans for mothers and more sons, the 18th century made the family larger and more resilient as a group.

In 1631, after the death of his brother, David de Büren was the last male heir of the de Büren name, one that could have died with him. Some 400 years later, there are over 50 of his direct de Büren descendants living in Switzerland, France, England, Argentina, Brazil and the United States.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Marvin Watches

The former ancestral home of the de Buren family, the Château de Vaumarcus has since the 1980s been the headquarters for many Swiss firms. One company that has called Vaumarcus home since 2007 is the Marvin Watch Company.

Marvin was started in 1850 in St. Imier, Switzerland, and was successful for many years before falling on hard times. The brand was purchased in 2002 by Cécile and Jean-Daniel Maye and had since experienced quite a renaissance.

The following videos give an overview of Marvin's activities and well as their very talented staff.

What I find very interesting is that Marvin's offices are in the Palais portion of the castle, the part of the castle that was built by Charles de Büren for his Dutch wife so she could have a more comfortable space in which to live, work, draw and paint. This construction helped fostered many generations of de Büren artists. It is comforting to know that the legacy of de Büren creative expression at Vaumarcus continues today with Marvin.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Rüeblimahl

One of the reasons I went on my recent trip to Switzerland was to attend an event dear to my ancestors. The event was the Rüeblimahl held at the one of the medieval guilds of Bern, the Metzgern Zunft or in English the Butcher’s Guild. The de Buren/von Büren family has been a member of the guild since its arrival in Bern in 1326, so it was a great honor to represent the family again within its hallowed walls.

The Rüeblimahl is a meal that commemorates the aftermath of the Battle of Laupen in 1339 when hungry soldiers from the guild only found carrots to eat from a local field. While the feast may commorate the eating of carrots, do not be fooled, this is not the Vegetable guild, it is the Butcher’s guild, so meat, meat and more meat is on the menu for this occasion. In fact, when I visited Franz von Graffenried, the President of the Burgergemeinde Bern the afternoon before the event, he joked with me “You won’t be eating any carrots, that’s for sure.” and he added “I hope you don’t have anything planned that afternoon.” Well I did actually, my time was short in Bern, I figured the lunch couldn’t last all afternoon, could it?

Daniel Claude and myself in the Pig's corner. Thanks to Jürg Stauffer for the Photo.

I was greeted at 11:45 am by Daniel Claude the son of the President of the guild, Martin Sauerer, as well as fellow guild member Jürg Stauffer. They were both very kind and took me under their wing. They infomed me that I would be sitting with them in the Pig’s corner, a place traditionally reserved for hog butchers, but now occupied by the young members of the guild. We started to make small talk and when I told Daniel that I had an interview at 2:30 pm he said, “Oh, we won’t be done by then. Better make it 4 or 5 pm.” What? I was triple booked all afternoon. I was sure he was pulling my leg.

We started the festivities with a nice apperitif of Swiss white wine in the cellar and then moved into the dining hall. We were packed to the gills at three long tables addorned with guild artifacts and carrots, just for decoration.

We started with soup, introductions and speeches. The first speech was made by the President of the guild who after acknolwedging his many important guests, most from other local guilds, came to me. He said that a member of one of the oldest families in Bern and of the guild, a von Büren was with them today, and had also come from California for the event. He stopped speaking Bärn Dütsch (Swiss-German dialect of Bern) of which I know probably two words and spoke in French for my benefit saying that I was always welcome at the Butcher’s guild. I was obviously moved. There were more speeches as the wine flowed.

The second course was bone marrow and liver, and not just one plate mind you. The marrow on bread with salt was very tasty. Someone remarked that it didn’t matter how much wine we were all drinking since we were eating liver. The third course arrived with heaping mouds of beef, special sausages and green beans. The sausages were my favorite, simply outstanding. After a couple of helpings I realized that I had to meet a reporter from Swissinfo who was doing a story on me, a California-Swiss coming back to his roots. As the reporter and I walked around the old town I felt a deep connection to Bern, one that grows each time I come back.

After my appointments I came back at 5 pm for some eau-de-vie with those who were still there. Jürg Stauffer and I talked for a bit and then I headed on to Neuchâtel. I was treated with genuine warmth by all those I met and really felt like a member of the guild.

I hope to attend again next year, and this time I will stay for the duration, if only to have a couple more of those sausages.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Château d'Oron

As I travel through Switzerland this week I have had many unique experiences. One was a private viewing of the Château of Oron in Western Switzerland. David de Büren was chief magistrate for Oron in the early 18th century and therefore it has a special meaning for my family.

Many thanks to André Locher of the Oron conservation committee for taking time out of his busy schedule to show me around.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Spin Doctor of the 15th century

Clara de Büren was the second daughter of Jean de Büren and Nicola Mossü. She was lady of Signau and Worb and was one of the most famous women of her age. She would marry first Ulrich Rieder and then Louis (Loy) de Diesbach. Louis was lord of Diesbach, and a Bernese Senator. While Clara was important in her own right, she is known mostly today as the mother of Nicolas de Diesbach, Schultheis of Bern and key player in the Burgundian wars that would consume Switzerland in the 15th century.

Nicolas was the richest man in Bern in his day thanks to the family business, a multinational corporation that imported textiles. He was a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, a great orator, very charismatic and given his political ambitions, rose quickly within the circles of Bernese power.

Nicolas is most well known for his role as an emissary for Louis XI of France in Bern. The following section on Nicolas comes from Capitaine de Vallière's masterwork on the Swiss in foreign service, Honneur et Fidélité. I have translated and interpreted the following section from the original.

Louis XI the Prudent, King of France

Through the use of a number of machiavellian measures Louis XI pushed the Swiss to war on his behalf against the bravest and most powerful Prince in Christendom, Charles the Bold. The King of France had one aim in the middle part of the 15th century: the destruction of the Duchy of Burgundy. To accomplish this goal he would need the military might of the Swiss.

Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy by Peter Paul Rubens

The confederates at that time were not at all interested in becoming embroiled in a quarrel between a King and his Vassal, they preferred to stay on good terms with both and remain neutral. To win over those who preferred peace, the King used several close allies, Jodoc de Silinen, of Luzern, Bishop of Grenoble, Guillaume de Diesbach, and especially his cousin Nicolas de Diesbach of Bern, a very talented diplomat. These men would take their mission very seriously, slowly turning public sentiment away from the alliance with Burgundy, all the while handing out French gold as they went. The public, duped by fabricated stories, now felt threatened by the ambitions of Charles the Bold, who was seen as a dangerous enemy with the darkest of intentions. The exodus of Swiss mercenaries in the service of Louis XI and France commenced.

1474 Alliance Treaty between Louis XI and the Eight Confederate Cantons

1470 marked the first political success of Nicolas de Diesbach and showed his expanding influence. In light of the supposed eminent attack of Charles the Bold, eight Swiss cantons signed a defensive treaty with Louis XI. Four years later at the urging of Nicolas de Diesbach war would be declared against Charles and the Duchy of Burgundy. France and Louis XI would stay out of the fray, happy to have the Swiss fight Charles the Bold for them. The Burgundian Wars would last until 1477 when Charles the Bold died at the battle of Nancy.

Nicolas de Diesbach would die in 1475 of plague at Blamont near the beginning of hostilities with Burgundy. As a result of his death the Swiss lost their most able negotiator and when the war was over in 1477, Louis XI took clear advantage of the situation. History has judged Nicolas severely, most seeing him only as a puppet of Louis XI. If any positives can be drawn from the period is that the war that Nicolas de Diesbach lobbied for and helped bring about would substantiate the Swiss as a fighting force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Strongbox

My great-aunt Natalie de Büren was a passionate Swiss artist and in previous posts I have featured examples of her sculpture and drawings. After her passing in 1986 my father was lucky enough to secure her estate and keep her work intact. Natalie was incredibly prolific but not well known, and my father certainly saved many or her drawings and sculptures from destruction.

Interestingly, amongst the lot of art and isolated personal effects came a small wood and iron strongbox.

When I first saw it I had visions of the Pirates of Caribbean, Black Beard and Spanish gold taken at musket point. To further peak my curiosity the key was long gone. My father shared my interest in discovering its contents and actually had the box x-rayed.

After the x-ray he determined the box to be full of papers. OK, so it wasn't gold, but I was still very intrigued, weren't they missing the 1291 Swiss Federal Charter or something? My father found someone who specialized in old locks and had a key made. After many months of anticipation the wait was over, I would finally get to see what was inside the box.

Fabricated key.

Strongbox lock on the underside of the lid.

It turned out to be full of love letters and correspondence from the 1920s and 30s. Kind of a let down, but the way I figure it, there is a reason the letters are in that box. I think it is a deliberate act, not like misplacing them in the top drawer of a chippendale desk. One day I intend to transcribe their contents for the book I will write on my family.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


While conducting some research I came accross the site of talented French Artist Stéphanie Miguet who specializes in découpages or paper cutting. I found her site because she was featured in a small art show at the Château of Denens, where my cousin Pierre de Büren makes wine.

During her time at Denens, Pierre showed her some découpages that two de Büren girls produced some 200 years ago. The artwork was most likely produced by Louise de Büren (1797-1841) and her sister, Cécile Amalie de Büren (1802-1890), both daughters of Louis Jacques de Büren (1771-1838) and Marie Henriette de Tavel (177-1864). I have featured Stephanie's photos of the 1810s découpages below. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

La Maison Jaune

Günther de Büren was the only son of Edouard de Büren (1853-1940) and Dorothée de Diesbach (1860-1940). His father was a lawyer and property manager in Bern. He was born in Bern in 1889 and would marry Maria Schild of Germany in 1927. Günther was a well known Biologist in Bern and French-speaking Switzerland. He was the Secretary of the Natural Sciences Society in Bern, Archivist of the Swiss Society of Natural Sciences and the Editor of the Swiss Botanical Society's publications. He made especially important contributions in the study of mushrooms with his publication Protomycetaceae of Switzerland: life history and biology.

He and his wife lived in a beautiful house called La Maison Jaune (The Yellow House) in the small town in Cully (VD) on the lake of Geneva. Günther and Maria did not have any children and when he died in 1953 he left the building to the town of Cully. The town did not take possession of the building until the death of Maria in 1966.

The house dates from 1641 and today is the home of the winemaker of the city (vigneron de la commune) with cellars in the basement, work shops on the main floor, living quarters on the second floor, city administration boardrooms on the third floor and the attic space displays local artists.

La Maison Jaune

La Maison Jaune

View of Cully (VD), Switzerland

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vaumarcus Bear Hunt

When I was a boy I often heard a story about how one my ancestor's was rumored to have killed the last wild bear in Bern. If true, it would be quite a dubious distinction since the bear is the beloved symbol of the city. I now believe the story to be false, but I think the tale became part of family lore thanks to an actual event involving a bear hunt led by my ancestor for the sovereign of Neuchâtel.

The story is taken from La Béroche: recherches historiques sur la paroisse de Saint-Aubin By Fritz Chabloz. It describes how in 1700, Baron Jean-Charles de Büren of Vaumarcus who was at the time the Grand Veneur de Neuchâtel (Responsible for the Royal Hunt), was instructed to organize a Bear Hunt for the Prince of Neuchâtel.

Diana, the Roman Goddess of the Hunt

Jean-Charles found a young bear in a tree near Gorgier. He ordered the men in his company to retrieve the bear. Finding his men unwilling, Jean-Charles climbed the pine tree himself, forcing the bear to go higher. They both found themselves at the top of the pine tree when the tree gave way and both the Baron and the Bear came tumbling down. The bear was taken to Vaumarcus, where he was released into the woods behind the castle and the hunt began. Many dogs were also released into the woods to track the bear only to return to the castle courtyard their tails between their legs. The hunt would continue without the benefit of the hounds who were too scared to venture anew in pursuit of their prey. The bear would outwit the hunters for a full 8 days until he ultimately met his maker.

"Cependant la Béroche était encore le coin du pays où l'on venait par tradition faire de grandes chasses. C'est ainsi que, dans la dernière année du XVIIme siècle, la grande chasse qui devait masquer les arrangements à prendre pour qu'un prince français devînt prince de Neuchâtel, eut lieu à Gorgier. C'est ainsi que le haut-gruyer, Charles-Victor de Büren, au commencement du XVIlIme siècle, découvrit, un jour qu'il se livrait au noble art de la vénerie, un ourson sur un sapin. — Il commanda au garde qui l'accompagnait d'aller faire descendre l'animal de son gîte aérien. Mais le garde était fort craintif, en vrai écureuil qu'il était; il s'en défendit tant qu'impatienté de Büren s'élança sur l'arbre et grimpa jusqu'à l'ours, qui monta plus haut. Arrivés tous deux au sommet du sapin, force leur fut de s'arrêter. L'ours voulut faire repentir son ennemi de sa témérité : il lui allongeait d'énergiques coups de patte. Le haut-gruyer ne savait d'abord comment se défendre, car un coup d'arquebuse lui semblait quelque chose de vulgaire ; il ordonna à son domestique de lui apporter une corde avec un nœud coulant. Puis au premier mouvement hostile de son antagoniste, il lui passa le nœud à une patte et l'attira à lui. L'animal résistait. Le chasseur, qui était grand et fort, dut employer toutes ses forces pour lui faire lâcher prise. Bref, après un violent craquement, la branche, la corde, l'ours, le baron, tout dégringola. Fort heureux que le sapin fût garni de branches touffues! On arriva sans grand mal au pied de l'arbre. Là les chasseurs parvinrent à lier le jeune ours avant qu'il fût tout à fait revenu à lui. Il fut conduit à Vauxmarcus et élevé dans la cour du château. Quand l'hôte du baron eut pris de la taille, le haut-gruyer invita ses amis à une chasse à l'ours. L'animal fut lâché dans la combe boisée derrière le château. Une meute où figuraient tous les héros de la gent canine neuchâteloise fut mise sur la voie et l'on sonna le lancé. Mais lorsque les chiens s'approchèrent et voulurent l'attaquer, l'ours en éventra trois ou quatre de sa robuste patte ; aussitôt toute la meute tourna dos en hurlant, et l'animal s'enfonça rapidement au fond des bois. Les chasseurs déconcertés durent continuer la chasse sans meute; maintenant que la bête était lâchée, il fallait l'abattre, car le Gouverneur avait rendu le haut-gruyer responsable des dommages que pourrait causer l'ours s'il venait à s'échapper. Ce ne fut que après huit jours de battue et de fatigues que les chasseurs purent sonner la mort de l'ours de Vauxmarcus."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Genealogy Parchment Roll

There are many family artifacts that I am drawn to, but one has always fascinated me. A genealogy tree or in this case a parchment roll that was created in the 17th century to chronicle the de Büren family history up to that point. The creator started to write widthwise as you would with an illustrated family tree, but thought better of it, given the length of the narrative and after the first generation began writing lengthwise.

It appears to be done by a family member and was possibly done by Jean-Charles de Büren (1636-1719). I imagine my ancestor with a quill and ink reservoir at a large table diligently writing out the early history of the de Büren family. I am sure it never crossed his mind that one of his descendants would be looking at his work 350 years on.

de Büren family genealogy parchment roll first entry – Arnold de Büren, 1166

14th century section

Parchment roll ends with the children of David de Büren and Marguerite de Bonstetten

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I participated in a recent contest that revolved around honoring your mentor. I felt that I have a rich history of mentorship and composed the following brief video.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Swiss Soldier

Throughout my travels to visit family in Europe I seemed to frequently notice the same two 18th century prints. The prints typically appeared as a set. The first was of a Swiss soldier leaving home to join in the service a foreign power much to the dismay of his family. The second was the same soldier upon his triumphant return home.

I have since learned they are from the celebrated Swiss painter Sigmund Freudenberger, who specialized in rustic scenes of rural Bernese life. It made sense that my family would have these prints as the represented an idealized version of Swiss military service that they were deeply invested in.

The departure of the Swiss soldier

The return of the Swiss soldier

Interestingly, Henri de Büren while traveling through the United States in 1852, as part of his two-year journey through the Americas, even makes of mention of seeing them at the house of Mr. de Freudenreich in Alpina, New York.

Bio of Sigmund Freudenberger from
Swiss, 1745-1801,Swiss painter, draughtsman and engraver. In 1761 he went to work for the portrait painter Emanuel Handmann in Basle, where he stayed for three years. In 1765, with Adrian Zingg (1734-86), he left for Paris, where he trained with Jakob Schmutzer (1733-1811) and frequented the studio of Jean Georges Wille, the celebrated engraver. He worked as a book illustrator during this period. The work of Boucher, whom he met, and of Greuze and Fragonard had a significant influence on his artistic development. Freudenberger returned in 1773 to Berne, where he undertook several portraits. He became friendly with Johann Ludwig Aberli, with whom he travelled the countryside, which he recorded in numerous drawings, watercolours and engravings. He specialized in genre scenes, rustic still-lifes and portrayals of Bernese peasant life, which became very popular. In some works, such as a red chalk drawing of A Woman Playing the Harp (1778; Zurich, Schweizer. Landesmus.), he continued the gallant style he had learnt from Boucher. His watercolours were frequently engraved, either individually or in series, and hand-coloured. His style is characterized by detailed and careful execution and by an intimate, narrative approach, although he tended to idealize his rustic subject-matter. His work was significant in introducing genre subjects in Switzerland, where artists had tended to concentrate on pure landscape. He ran a large studio where Daniel Lafond (1763-1831), Niklaus Kenig and Georg Mind (1768-1814) were pupils. The French Revolution was disastrous for his art and his business and clouded the last years of his life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jean Elisé de Büren (1762-1814)

When I was a boy I was enamored with tales of family prestige and success. The more heartrending passages of the de Büren family saga did not seem to effect me. After becoming a father, that changed. My emotional interaction and reaction to my family history has become much more visceral, even uncomfortable at times. The story of Jean Elisé falls into that category.

Jean Elisé de Büren was the second son of Charles de Büren (1731-1787) and Cornélie Jacobée van Assendelft (1733-1799). He was born in Holland while he father was still serving in the Swiss Guards. Upon returning to Switzerland he would be raised with his other brothers and sister at Vaumarcus.

Jean unfortunately had a very weak constitution and it appears he had a skeletal condition that made him progressively more hunched and stiff over time. In the painting below the fingers on his right hand hint at his condition. In spite of his ailment he was known as someone who was happy and kind, and in 1795 he became a member of the grand council of Bern.

Jean Elisé de Büren (1762-1814) painted most likely around 1795.

Jean would marry in 1803 Catherine Louise Charlotte de Thellung (1782-1814) daughter of François de Thellung, of the grand council of Biel and Salomé Catherine Jaggi. They would have two girls, Catherine and Cornélie. In a span of 15 days in 1814, Jean, his wife and his mother-in-law would succomb to Typhoid fever and die, leaving the girls orphans. Jean was a bad money manager and on top of losing their parents the girls were virtually penniless.

The future of Catherine and Cornélie could have been quite dire. Thankfully though they would go and live with their godparents Frédéric and Julie de Büren (de Wattenwyl) in Bern who became wonderful surrogate parents and would raise them well.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Funding Suchard's Steam Boat

Philippe Suchard
(1797-1884) who is known the world over as a Swiss chocolate maker, was also a great industrialist.

After a trip to the United States in 1824-1825, where he viewed the effectiveness of American Steam Boat travel, he set upon bringing the same mode of transport to Neuchâtel. In 1834 he had a boat built in Paris and called it "L'industriel." The Steam boat enterprise that he brought to the lake of Neuchâtel was funded by the local government along with the private assistance of the Count of Gorgier, Louis de Pourtales and by my ancestor the Baron of Vaumarcus, Albert de Büren.

"Philippe Suchard did not confine himself to improving chocolate. In 1834 he brought the first iron steam ship to Lake Neuchatel, the Industriel, and followed this up the next year with a steam ship on Lake Thun. His experience with shipping led him to back projects to regulate the rivers of the Jura region, which had the effect of lowering the levels of Lakes Biel, Murten and Neuchatel and putting an end to centuries of flooding. (The newly created shoreline also helped reveal the Celtic settlement of La Tène dating back to around 450 BC, one of the most important archaeological finds ever made in Switzerland.)" – Courtesy of

Suchard's "L'industriel" © Museum of Art and History, Neuchâtel

It makes sense that my ancestor would take part in local affairs, but the more I read, the greater my respect builds for Albert de Büren. He not only focused on Botany and Science but invested his time, energy and money in what would improve the quality of life for the Canton as a whole.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

du Gard Genealogy and the Marriage Contract

In 1751, the history of the du Gard family of Echichens, Vaud was inscribed in a beautiful leather-bound edition for the then Lord of Echichens, Théodore du Gard (1703-1776). It contained the history of the du Gard from its origins in France to its establishment in Switzerland. The last pages concern the marriage contract of Théodore du Gard and Salomé de Büren as well as the birth and death dates of their children. Tragically only one of their children would live to adulthood, and he would not have any progeny, so the The du Gard family would die out with him. The images below show some pages from the beautifully inscribed du Gard genealogy.

Inside cover with gilded floral pattern and du Gard family crest.

The genealogy of the house of du Gard, originally from picardy.

Robert du Gard originally of Fresneville, Picardy, who emigrated to Switzerland in 1569.

Marriage contract between Théodore du Gard and Salomé de Büren.

Lovely illustrations within the typography add to the beauty of the piece.


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