…he was a big deal long before Christopher Columbus “discovered” America. Three years ago yesterday, I happened upon his statue while wandering through Bern, Switzerland.
Adrian von Bubenberg was such a big deal that, after he died and was buried in Bern’s cathedral, the Pope wanted to dig up his grave and move the body to a less prestigious spot. Apparently von Bubenberg wasn’t good with money and died in debt – I presume some of that was owed to the pope. Why else would the pontiff be upset?
Von Bubenberg was of noble blood, a knight who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (not an easy trip in 1466), a national hero for his military exploits against the French and a three-time mayor of Bern. No wonder they put up a statue.
But I had never heard of him before. Had you?
There are so many people whose prominence is local. They are important for a time, in a particular place, but they are mostly forgotten by history.
Does that mean they weren’t important? Or weren’t interesting? Probably not for most of them. But there are limits to collective memory.
I like to think I have a good knowledge of history. It was my favorite subject in high school, and I took several university courses at both undergrad and graduate levels. But the truth is, I know nothing about history.
Once you get past Simon Bolivar, my knowledge of South American history is practically non-existent. Other than Liberia (where I lived for a year), I can’t tell you much about Africa. The Indian sub-continent? Well, there was Gandhi. And don’t ask me about Asia. England I know a bit about, but only highlights for the rest of Europe.
Which is why I had never heard of Adrian von Bubenberg before. Maybe if I had grown up in Bern I would have learned about him.
I don’t feel guilty though. I doubt there is anyone in Bern who could tell me the historical significance of Dollard des Ormeaux, who is commemorated by statue in my hometown of Montreal. Probably most Canadians have never heard of him. I wonder how many Swiss know of von Bubenberg?
Who does your hometown remember who is unknown to most of the world?