Jura is a system of mountains and faults in Central Europe, which reaches the height of 5,600 ft. in France. This forest-covered ridge with its many gorges was the most favorable possible place of refuge for persecuted Mennonites. Of the Swiss Jura mountains, it is the Bernese Jura and the Neuchâtel Jura that were principally used in this way. Solothurn and the Basel Jura sheltered them in passing through. In the French Jura Mennonite refugees from Bern and Alsace began to settle at the beginning of the 18th century.
A large part of the Swiss Jura belonged to the prince bishopric of Basel. In 1528 the bishop transferred his seat to Pruntrut. When the Bernese government persecuted the Mennonites they found refuge on the heights of the Jura in his domain. For economic advantages to the country the Mennonites were tolerated here. There was, of course, no lack of complaints on the part of the native population against the Mennonites, or of orders banishing them. But these orders were at first laxly carried out. Since the south Jura was in the political sphere of Bern, and under its influence accepted the Reformation, Bern demanded of the prince bishops that they pursue the Anabaptists more vigorously. Continued disturbance drove many Mennonites to further emigration to the French Jura, and finally to America. When the bishop was driven out by the French in 1792, the bishopric became a part of the Republic of France as Departement Mont Terrible. A petition presented by the Mennonites asking exemption from military service was denied.
In 1815 most of the bishopric was incorporated in the canton of Bern, which at that time valued its woods less highly than its "granary" (canton of Aargau) and its "wine cellar" (canton of Waadt or Vaud). Thereby the Jura Mennonite congregations suffered the same lot as the Emmental churches. In the course of time several churches became extinct through emigration, as Tscharner, Vanne, Monto, Chaluet, Münsterberg, and La Ferrière. Here and there fragments of masonry and neglected fruit trees indicate the former Mennonite settlements (viz., on the south slope of Monto). These places have for the most part become pasture. Other congregations that endured were: Sonnenberg, Kleinthal, Cortébert-Berg, Chaux d'Abel-Berg, Porrentruy-Courgenay, Lucelle (Gross-lützel), and Les Bulles. The total baptized membership was about 1,000 in the 1950s.
The religious development of the Jura Mennonites is like that in other regions. Originally their services were held in concealed clefts and caves. The "Geiss Chilchli" in the Kleinthal congregation, a small cave along the road to the church in Perceux, recalls those days. Later they met in private homes; at the end of the 19th century meetinghouses were built everywhere. Faithful ministers maintained contact with the scattered members, admonishing and strengthening them in the faith. Contact with the Emmental church, the Evangelische Gesellschaft, and the "Free Churches" kept spiritual life awake, and about 1910 brought forth new life.
In economic life the Mennonites in the Jura have been proverbial for faithfulness in word and deed, industry and frugality. Thus they have again and again as renters won the good will of the owners and thereby that of the prince bishops. Even the government at Bern appreciated their pioneer work. Toward the end of the 19th century they began to acquire ownership of the land. This trend was promoted by the prosperity of World War I.
Whereas the German-speaking members of the Reformed Church who settled here lost their German completely in the second and third generation, the Mennonites retained it much longer, constituting little islands of German in the French-speaking region. The reason for this lay in their religious isolation and their private schools. The great distance to the public schools justified the government in supporting private schools on these isolated farms. Nevertheless these schools repeatedly led to heated debates in the Grand Council at Bern as well as in the newspapers. In the 1950s the number of schools had decreased and the larger ones were trying to become state schools.
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Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 128-129. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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APA style: Amstutz-Tschirren, A. J. (1957). Jura Mountains. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/J862.html.