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Melissa Snell

A medieval debt wiped clean

By January 9, 2013

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In 1357, in the Swiss canton of Glarus, a man by the name of Konrad Mueller killed a fellow named Heinrich Stucki. To atone for his crime, Mueller gave a sanctuary lamp to the Naefels church and agreed to keep it burning "for eternity," which he would do by paying for its oil every year. This penance was meant not only to save Mueller's soul, but to appease the Stucki family and keep any of them from exacting vengeance. Should Mueller fail to pay for the lamp's fuel, his land would be forfeited to the Church.

This arrangement continued after Mueller's death; succeeding landowners paid the Naefels parish 70 francs per year to cover the cost of lamp oil.

But in 2009, things changed. The current landowner refused to pay, and the Naefels Catholic Church took him to court. The Swiss court ruled in favor of the landowner, stating that 19th-century mortgage reforms had made the medieval arrangement invalid.

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