English in Château d’Oex
St. Peter’s was one of thirty or so English churches built in Switzerland during the last quarter of the 19th century, when thousands of British people began to discover the beauty of this country. They first came as tourists, but then settled in significant numbers. Château-d’Oex was one such area and with their arrival came the desire for familiar English services amidst familiar church architecture.
Building St. Peter’s
In January 1898 the brothers Berthod made a gift of land to the thenColonial and Continental Church Society (now the Intercontinental Church Society) for the construction of St Peter’s. This was funded by public subscription which was greatly encouraged by the energetic efforts of a local English resident, Mrs. Claudine Scott. It was on June 28, 1899 that the foundation stone of St Peter’s was laid by the Rt Revd. T.E. Wilkinson, Anglican Bishop of North and Central Europe. On it were inscribed the words “To the Glory of God and in the faith of Jesus Christ …. Prosper Thou our handiwork.”
The church was opened in 1899, but by the winter of 1905, the congregation had become so large that plans were drawn up for an additional aisle, to increase the seating capacity. The extension was dedicated in 1911, but even this proved inadequate for the estimated 300 who packed into the Christmas service in 1922. This was despite the fact that many English people had returned home at the outbreak of World War I which also halted tourist travel.
The Karl Baedeker’s guidebook, published in 1913, mentions that “St. Peter’s has Sunday services at 8.15, 10.30, 11.40 and 5. Chaplain is Rev. E. Dudley Lampen. ” See Switzerland…. Handbook for Travellers, by Karl Baedeker, 1913
First World War
The Swiss government had negotiated with the warring powers for the humanitarian work of interning sick and wounded prisoners of war until the end of hostilities. On the 30 and 31 May 1916, two trainloads of British interns arrived in Château d’Oex and were warmly welcomed by the local population. Between 1916 and 1918, the number of British soldiers interned fluctuated between 500 and 700 and helped to maintain the Anglophile connection.
Attendance in 1930s
Records for the early 1930’s showed that there were around 200 English residents, despite the impact of the depression. Indeed three, and sometimes four, services were held on Sundays, with a total annual attendance of 8,671 in 1932.
Despite the effect of Alpine winters, the building has been kept in good repair with electric heating installed in 1931 and a new roof in 1964. As well as the regular congregation, countless visitors have worshipped in St. Peter’s, including in April 1958, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife, Mrs. Fisher.