Farmer’s 14th century church debt ruled invalid

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Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Farmer’s 14th century church debt ruled invalid
View of Näfels with the tower of the parish church to the left. Photo:Roland Zumbühl

The Glarus cantonal court has cleared a farmer of a 655-year-old obligation to pay for a sanctuary lamp at the Catholic church of Näfels.


The unusual debt dates back to 1357 when a land owner called Konrad Müller killed Heinrich Stucki, according to a report on the ruling by the SDA news service.

For the “salvation of his soul” and to escape vengeance from the victim's family, Müller offered a sanctuary lamp to the church at Mollis, another community nearby, and pledged to pay for its cost “for eternity”.

Under the agreement, if the land owner failed to honour the promise, his property would revert to the church.

In Catholic churches, a sanctuary lamp is typically kept burning before the altar as an ornament and an object of worship.

During the period of the protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the lamp was moved from Mollis to the St. Hilarius parish church at Näfels.

But for subsequent centuries the owners of Müller’s property continued to pay for the lighting of the lamp.

The annual cost of paying for the nut oil used for the lamp now amounts to 70 francs a year, according to information presented to the court.

A farmer who owns property linked to the obligation opposed a bid by the church to have the debt registered in the municipal land register.

The church took the man to court but in a decision made late last month, and just recently released, the Glarus court sided with the property owner.

The court ruled that the common law obligation from the 13th century was ruled invalid by mortgage reform approved in the middle of the 19th century, SDA reported.

The court also found there was no particular connection between the property involved and the sanctuary lamp.


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