Valère, 11-13th century

Medieval fortified town surrounding the Basilique de Valère

Site : self-guided tour - free entrance

June - September
Monday - Sunday
10.00 - 18.00
October - May
Tuesday - Sunday
10.00 - 17.00

Guided tours of the site and the Choeur of the Basilika

CHF 4.- Adults
CHF 2.- Children, students, seniors, soldiers

June - September
every day
except Sunday morning
11am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm
October - May
Sunday
2 and 4 pm

Cafeteria, terrace and small restaurant

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Valère is more a fortified village than a castle. Since the beginning of the Middle Ages and up until the end of the XVIIIth century, it was the seat of the Venerable Chapter of the cathedral church. The chapter formed the bishop's council and ensured the smooth running of the diocese. In the Middle Ages the Chapter was comprised of around thirty canons but they did not live communally. Each had his own house. Therefore, the buildings leading to the church were used as places to live and formed a small town. The undulating relief of the hill and various fortifications (outer walls, corner towers, interior doors, etc.) limited access to the site in general and to the religious building in particular, the final defensive enclave. A number of facilities such as a water butt, which is still visible with its pointed roof, and a grain mill, enabled the site's inhabitants to be self-sufficient if necessary (siege, epidemic, etc.).

The medieval "village"

The first buildings probably date from the middle of the XIIth century since the canons were earmarked to reside on the hill by the bishop in 1168. The buildings were made of wood and have left no trace. The first stone houses appeared in the XIIIth century and covered the whole site. A short time afterwards they were surrounded by a crenellated outer wall that followed the natural contours of the landscape. Valère thus became a fortified site.

During the next century the first dwelling places were extended and the defences improved – four corner towers, interior doors and walls reinforced protection of the church, which also obtained some military enforcements with its crenels. Furthermore, the building called the "gardes", which has become the reception of the modern day history museum, was built at this time. Its room with the wide, easily identifiable, ogival windows, is the only one of this magnitude on the site. Reminiscent of a seigniorial lecture hall, it was most probably intended for communal use.

Just above there are two buildings side by side that also had a specific use. The first leading up to the church is that of the "Dean", thus named because it used to serve as the residence for the Dean of the cathedral Chapter. On the first floor the rooms are fitted out comfortably with XVIIth century panelling covering the walls and potstone stoves. The second, called the "Calendes", contains, on the first floor along the entire length of the building, a room richly decorated with murals. They represent the "Nine Valiant Knights", symbols of courtly ideals and a Crucifixion. This room served an important communal function and was perhaps used as a courtroom.

The church

The construction of the church probably began at the end of the XIth century. It progressed rapidly since it was already completed by the middle of the XIIIth century. However, in between, aesthetic tastes changed and the original Roman style finally became Gothic. Today, three stages of the construction are still visible: the foundations of the apses and the entire nave and entrance gate, in a Roman style, date from the first stage, in the first third of the XIIth century. During the second stage, at the turn of the XIIth century, the transept and the side chapels were raised into a Gothic arch. Lastly, in the XIIIth century, the jube, a rare example preserved from this era, was built to separate the chancel, reserved for the canons, from the nave, reserved for the congregation. At the same time the chancel was raised according to the Gothic canons, the tower was erected and the bays of the nave were given their arching. The building has not really undergone any further architectural changes since, but some considerable developments have been made to the interior. At the end of the Middle Ages, William VI of Raron, bishop of Sion, gave the cathedral Chapter sizeable financial resources to embellish the interior. The organ and its painted shutters, the Raron chapel decorated with murals telling the story of the martyr of Saint Sebastian and the magnificent decor of the apse representing the Apostles, were commissioned from painters Pierre Maggenberg and Etienne de Montbéliard. The chancel stalls and a number of alterpieces were also added during the Baroque period.

Around 1900, the building was fully restored from a perspective favouring the Medieval vestiges. In 1987, the church was consecrated a Minor Basilica by Pope John Paul II. The same year, a new restoration campaign began and is still in progress.

The organ

The organ is the masterpiece of the basilica and the oldest instrument in the world of this type that is still playable. Due to the paintings on its shutters, its construction has been dated 1431-1437. Many parts of it are still the originals and more than half of the pipes are from the XVth century. The instrument has undergone several renovations over the centuries. The "swallow's nest" organ loft is from the Baroque era. Closed, the organ's shutters depict the Annunciation and open, the mystical marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Christ.

During the XVIIIth century there was no longer any interest shown in Valère. The canons gradually left the hill and permanently moved into the town at the end of the century. The church continued to be maintained but the village buildings did not and many fell into disrepair.

At the end of the XIXth century, the site became more appealing again due to the emergence of an interest in heritage and the need for premises on which to display items from the archaeology collection. In 1883, the first room of the museum was set up there. From then on and up until the present day several restoration campaigns were undertaken in order to put an end to the deterioration and gradually redevelop the buildings. The final step was the new museum, which was set up in an extension of the buildings in September 2008.

 

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