St. Gallen ( Sankt Gallen French: Saint-Gall; Italian: San Gallo) is the capital of the canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It evolved from the hermitage of Saint Gall, founded in the 7th century. Today, it is a large urban agglomeration (with around 160,000 inhabitants) and represents the center of eastern Switzerland. The town mainly relies on services for its economic base The main tourist attraction is the Abbey of St. Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its renowned library contains books which date to the 9th century. The city has good transport links to the rest of the country and to neighbouring Germany and Austria. It also functions as the gate to the Appenzell Alps.
St. Gallen is situated in the northeastern part of Switzerland in a valley around 700 meters above sea level. It is one of the highest cities in Switzerland and it often receives a lot of snow in winter. The town is nicely situated between Lake Constance and the mountains of the Appenzell Alps (with the Säntis as the highest peak at 2502 metres). It therefore offers excellent recreation areas nearby.
As the city center is built on an unstable turf ground (thanks to its founder Gallus who was looking for a hermitage and not founding a city), all buildings on the valley floor must be built on piles. For example, the entire foundation of the train station and its plaza are based on hundreds of piles. Around 720, one hundred years after Gallus's death, the alemannian priest Othmar built an abbey and gave it the name Abbey of St. Gallen. In 926 Hungarian raiders attacked the abbey and surrounding town. Saint Wiborada, the first woman formally canonized by the Vatican, reportedly saw a vision of the pending attack and warned the monks and citizens to flee. While the monks and the abbey treasure escaped, Wiborada chose to stay behind and was killed by the raiders. About 954 the monastery was surrounded by walls as a protection against the Saracens, and the town grew up around these walls.
About 1205 the abbot became a prince of the church in the Holy Roman Empire In 1311 St. Gallen became a Free imperial city. By about 1353 the guilds, headed by the cloth-weavers guild, gained control of the civic government. In 1415 the city bought its liberty from the German king Sigismund. In 1405 the Appenzell estates of the abbot successfully rebelled and in 1411 they became allies of the Old Swiss Confederation. A few months later the town of St. Gallen also became allies. They joined the "everlasting alliance" as full members of the Confederation in 1454 and in 1457 became completely free from the abbot. However, in 1451 the abbey became an ally of Zürich, Lucerne, Schwyz and Glarus who were all members of the Confederation.
One of the earliest mayors of St. Gallen may be among the most colorful, Ulrich Varnbüler. Hans, the father of Ulrich, was prominent in city affairs in St. Gallen, Switzerland, in the early 1400s. Ulrich made his entry into public affairs in the early 1460s and gathered the various offices and honors that are available to a talented and ambitious man. He demonstrated fine qualities as field commander of the St. Gallen troops in the Burgundian Wars. In the battle of Grandson in 1476 he and his troops were part of the advance units of the Confederation and took part in their famous attack. (A large painting of Ulrich returning triumphantly to a hero's welcome in St. Gallen can still be seen in St. Gallen).
After the war, he often represented St. Gallen at various Confederation parliaments. In December 1480 he was offered the position of mayor for the first time. From that time on he served in several leading city positions and was considered the intellectual and political leader. According to Vadian, who understood his contemporaries well, "Ulrich was a very intelligent, observant, and eloquent man who enjoyed the trust of the citizenry to a high degree."
His reputation among the Confederates was also substantial. However, in the late 1480s he became involved in a conflict that was to have serious negative consequences for him and for the city of which he was mayor. St. Gallen in 1642In 1463 Ulrich Rösch had assumed the management of the abbey of St. Gall. He was an ambitious prelate, whose goal it was to raise the abbey by every possible means to prominence again following the losses of the Appenzell War.
His restless ambitions offended the political and material interests of his neighbors. When he arranged for the help of the pope and the emperor to carry out a plan of moving the abbey to Rorschach on Lake Constance, he encountered stiff resistance from the St. Gallen citizenry, other clerics, and the Appenzell nobility in the Rhine Valley who were concerned about their holdings. At this point, Varnbüler entered the conflict against the prelate. He wanted to restrict the increase of power in the abbey and simultaneously increase the power of the town that had been restricted in its development.
For this purpose he established contact with farmers and Appenzell residents (led by the fanatical Hermann Schwendiner) who were seeking an opportunity to weaken the abbot. Initially, he protested to the abbot and the representatives of the four sponsoring Confederate cantons (Zürich, Lucerne, Schwyz, and Glarus) against the construction of the new abbey in Rorschach. Then, on July 28, 1489 he had armed troops from St. Gallen and Appenzell destroy the buildings already under construction.
When the abbot complained to the Confederates about the damages and demanded full compensation, Ulrich responded with a counter suit and in cooperation with Schwendiner rejected the arbitration efforts of the non-partisan Confederates. He motivated the clerics from Wil to Rorschach to discard their loyalty to the abbey and spoke against the abbey at the town meeting at Waldkirch, where the popular league was formed. He was confident that the four sponsoring cantons would not intervene with force, due to the prevailing tensions between the Confederation and the Swabian League. He was strengthened in his resolve by the fact that the people of St. Gallen elected him again to the highest magistrate in 1490.