Basel’s Barefoot Square

Barfüsserplatz is a central square in Basel, named after the Barfüsser order of monks.

The German word barfuß (or barfuss, as the Swiss spell it) means barefoot, and the barefoot monks were called that because at first they weren’t allowed to wear shoes, only sandals. This must have been when they were living in warmer countries, not in Switzerland in the winter.

The reason the Barfüsser monks eschewed shoes was because of an instruction that Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew 10:10. To me, as a non-theologian, it seems more likely that he was just telling them to travel light and not carry an extra pair of shoes with them on their travels, but the monks understood it to mean that they should dispense with shoes altogether.

Cycling at the Barfüsserplatz in Basel

The only other thing I know about the Barfüsser monks is that in the opera The Templar and the Jewess by Heinrich August Marschner (1795-1861) they were portrayed as lusty men who enjoyed hunting and drinking, though originally they were reputed to be especially humble and ascetic.

I’ve never seen any of Marschner’s operas, only read about them. He was very influential in his lifetime, but his works are seldom seen today. In 2020 his opera The Vampire was scheduled to be performed in Radebeul, Germany, but apparently most of the performances were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

My photos in this post are from 2004. I revised the text in 2020.

See also: The Barefoot Church in Augsburg, Germany.

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