Destination of many pilgrims in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Church of Notre-Dame de Compassion was founded in 1350 and converted in 1688-1692. It was served by Capuchin monks from 1665 to 2004.
From 1350, Bulle boasted a hospital which offered refuge to the sick, the poor, orphans and travellers. The hospital was located on the same site as the monastery. On 26 and 27 August 1447, a fire laid waste to the town, from the hospital to the church which stood on the same spot as today. A good part of the town was rebuilt in 1454. A new hospital and a new church were erected.
The 29th June 1665 saw the arrival of the first three Capuchin monks: a superior, a father and a brother. They took up residence in the rooms of the hospital, which was replaced between 1671 and 1679 by a monastery. The hospital was relocated to a building situated near the Porte d’Enhaut. In 1679, the Fribourg government officially gave permission for the Capuchin monks to remain in Bulle. The church was enlarged in 1688. It was attended by the Capuchins, who also served the community by taking in the poor. In the entrance, under the Heimatstil porch (1909) visitors can admire a magnificent sculpted gate which also dates from 1688.
In 1692 the sculptor from Bulle Pierre Ardieu (1649-1735), with his collaborators, finished the Baroque style main altar, which includes a multitude of statues surrounding the Blessed Virgin. A century later, another artist from the region, Joseph Deillon (1727-1795), modified and added to the work of Ardieu. Over the centuries, successive occupants (burghers, parishioners and Capuchin monks) maintained the church, which underwent different conversions as the need arose. The stained-glass windows of the choir are by Jean-Edward de Castella (1924) and those in the nave are by Yoki (1965 and 1984).
The monastery of the Capuchin Fathers and the Church of Notre Dame de Compassion were an important destination for pilgrims in the second half of the 17th century and throughout the 18th century, and this contributed greatly to development of the local economy. Pilgrims flocked from all corners of French-speaking Switzerland, Savoy and Franche-Comté. On important religious days and during some festivals, as many as 1800 pilgrims would be present. Crowds were so great that services were established for different orders.
In response to prayers answered, pilgrims made votive offerings, namely small pictures covering the walls of the nave. All of the pilgrims needed to eat, drink and sleep, and take back souvenirs, and shopkeepers made the most of this: in 1722, there were eight inns and wine-sellers, as well as around fifteen shops situated opposite the church and around the castle moat.
While their order had been present in Bulle for more than three centuries, the last Capuchins left the monastery in 2004 due to recruitment difficulties. Since Capuchin monks may not own property, in the 20th century the nave of the church became the property of the parish of Bulle, while ownership of the choir of the church, and the inner choir reserved for “private” prayer by devotees, passed to the Holy See (Vatican), and the monastic part to the State of Fribourg. In 2007, the State of Fribourg ceded its title to the parish. The Vatican did likewise in 2010. The monastery’s’ important library joined the collection of the Cantonal and University Library of Fribourg. Numerous objects saved from the monastery are held by the Musée gruérien.
© Musée gruérien and Cultural Heritage Department of the canton of Fribourg
Also of interest
The church, its altar and votive offerings attached to the walls of the sanctuary.
Statue of the Blessed Virgin, collection of votive offerings and book of miracles from the church in the section “A living town” of the Musée gruérien.
Find out more
Ivan Andrey, Fin de chapitre, Bulle, 2004 (introduction).
Jean Dubas, Notre-Dame de Compassion, un pèlerinage à Bulle, Bulle, 1984.
Bulle, Church of Notre-Dame de Compassion, Capuchin monastery and fire-fighters’ house (demolished in 1972), circa 1900
© Photo Charles Morel Musée gruérien