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Interactive exhibition at Chollerhalle, Zug


Pater Martin Schmid from Baar sets off for South America in 1726. As a builder, musician and pastor, the Jesuit did missionary work for the Christian faith, particularly among the indigenous Chiquitos. There are still traces of his activity in Bolivia today.

From a present-day perspective, Schmid's activity as a missionary Jesuit raises questions: What are the reasons for Martin Schmid's actions and what ideals lead him on his path? Are we exposed to similar ideas today? The exhibition connects Martin Schmid's path in life to the here and now. It shows the extent to which utopias endure over time and how they affect the actions and thoughts of societies. In this exhibition you have the opportunity to engage with and reflect on your world.

Progress and Technology

Money and Faith

Community and Architecture

Heritage and Home

Mission and Colonialism

Passing on and Forgetting


17th century Europe is in a crisis: war and devastation are overwhelming the continent. The Jesuits want to build an ideal Christian world by spreading the Catholic faith. Their mission leads them overseas, to South America among other places. The Jesuits – including Pater Martin Schmid – are convinced that with their missionary work, they could establish a better social order for indigenous peoples. They constructed so-called reductions, indigenous settlements. There, inhabitants would strive for a Christian ideal based on a strict daily routine of work and prayer. Western virtues such as order, diligence, and control were emphasized. In a way, they implemented a form of entrepreneurial spirit within the communities. Very soon, the reductions turn into a financial success.


There is a fundamental idea in the Western world that societies and technologies will continually advance, improve and evolve over time. The belief in progress and technology is deeply rooted in the history and thinking of our society. Even today, it strongly influences our worldview, politics, economy, technology development and our own selves. We therefore constantly try to optimize ourselves. Self-optimization becomes the guiding principle for how we live our lives: everyone should make the best of themselves and their lives. Additionally, all of our problems should be solved with technical solutions such as apps. The hope for technical innovations is omnipresent.


Will technology solve the problems of our time?



In the Catholic town of Baar during Pater Martin Schmid’s time, the Christian faith and the Church is omnipresent. Religion shapes people’s worldview and defines their values and ideals. They attend mass on Sundays and live their lives according to the principles of Christian faith. Faithful Catholics strive for a life full of good deeds in order to reach “divine heaven.” Anyone who turns away from God is threatened with eternal damnation in hell.

The goal of the Jesuits – which Schmid was – is to spread the Catholic faith. In the eyes of the missionaries, people of other faiths must be saved. Thus, the indigenous people should also be guided on the right path in the reductions.


The Christian faith is no longer omnipresent in Switzerland today. Significant social changes – for example industrialization and digitalization – lead to ever-changing new values and ideals. Worldviews shaped by capitalism permeate and replace Christian values and ideals. Like that, belief in money and competition becomes a universal truth, a law of nature, the foundation of reality. Liberalism promotes self-realization and diversity of values.


What values and ideals do you believe in?



The Jesuit Reductions are built according to the Jesuits' vision of ideal cities. They are trying to establish a Christian social society. The most important element of the reductions is the public square for Christian processions. To the side, there are other Christian elements such as a church, chapels, a cemetery and a rectory. School facilities, workshops and plantations testify to the planned economic viability of the reductions. A sundial is intended to encourage the indigenous people to follow a regular daily routine, because all indigenous people are obliged to work. The locals’ homes are designed for a monogamous family model. Only indigenous people and Jesuits are allowed to enter the reductions.

Their downfall is the envy of the Spanish-colonial landowners. They see the economically successful Jesuit reductions as unwelcome competition.

That is why the Jesuit reductions were called a “holy experiment” admiringly at the time, and later derisively. Then, at the end of the 19th century, they are even seen as an example of successful Christian socialism.


Cities are ever-changing. They are shaped by governments, laws, economic situations, wars, organizations, companies and the population. Different goals are pursued when building, and you have to constantly adapt to new situations. The dream of the ideal city, which is built from scratch and works together perfectly as a whole, is present throughout history. Which factors are most important in that endeavor can vary greatly - depending on whether you prioritize safety, beauty, industry, housing, transport, entertainment, education, or nature. The ideal city remains a utopia, because even a planned city is subject to the laws of change.


Who owns the city?


When building a medieval city, defense was a priority. Some modern kings, on the other hand, wanted to build cities that were as magnificent as possible. From ancient times to today, there has been the ideal of a grid-like planned city that is built in a completely uniform manner.

Ideal cities in history

The Jesuit reductions were constructed as ideal Christian-social towns.


Schematic plan Guaranímission Candelaria, 
Drawing archive AECID Madrid, open source

Village Map from Chiquitania 18. Jh.

The Round City of Bagdad, newly established in the 8th century. Mosque, palace, and academy are situated in the center. The shape symbolizes the ruling power. If this origin is reality or myth is contested.

The city Baghdad between 767 and 912 CE,
1883, William Muir.

Baghdad 8th century

Palmanova as the ideal Renaissance city, with its star-shaped town wall for optimal defense. The 16th century layout has been preserved to this day.

The Venetian Model City Palmanova by Georg Braun
and Frantz Hogenberg, between 1572 and 1680,
Civitates Orbis Terrarum.

Palmanova 16. Jh.

In its first phase of development, the city of Zug consisted only of a part of today's old town, which, however, had another third alley, which no longer exists today. Today's Untergasse still represented the Mittelgasse until the catastrophe of the old town in 1435. The town area consisted of six approximately parallel rows of houses running southward.

Oldest known depiction of the town of Zug 
from the chronicle of Johannes Stumpf (1547/48)

Zug 16th century

Idealized view of Karlsruhe as the margrave’s dream city, the castle in the middle and the streets as rays of sunlight. The “folding fan city” was also intellectually open and conceived in a modern, humanistic way.

Prospect of the Fürstl. Margrave Baden Durlach 
newly built Residentz Stadt Carolsruhe, 
1721, Gabriel Bodenehr.

Karlsruhe 18th century

District Eixample (Barcelona), first planned in 1855 as an expansion of the city. City planner Cerdà tried to combine the requirements of industrialization, hygiene, mobility, and park areas.

Plan of the area surrounding city Barcelona and project for its improvement and expansion, 1859, Ildefons Cerdà, Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat, Barcelona.

Barcelona 19th century

Chandigarh, postcolonial India’s first planned city. A symbol of freedom built by Nehru’s government, and simultaneously the modern garden town architect Le Corbusier envisioned in his utopia of individual freedom.

Final urbanization plan for the first phase of Chandigarh’s construction, 1952, Le Corbusier.

Chandigarh 20th century

Stalinstadt as a built utopia of the early GDR years. The goal was to design the city as a laboratory of a future society, culture and way of life. Private ownership of land and houses as well as churches and private handicraft and service businesses were completely absent in Stalinstadt.


Site plan of the completed buildings in Stalinstadt, 
June 1960, Eisenhüttenstadt City Archives

Stalinstadt 20th century

The Jesuit reductions have survived for over 300 years with the Chiquitos in the Bolivian lowlands. Partly because the reductions were too remote to be of interest to the colonial powers. In addition, the indigenous communities have taken care of them for a long time. It isn’t until the 1940s and 50s that Jesuit Felix Plattner rediscovers the reductions on his trip to South America. Later, architect and theologist Hans Roth from Zug restores the churches in the Jesuit missions at Plattner’s behest. In 1990, the UNESCO declares six of the Chiquito’s Jesuit reductions in East Bolivia to be World Heritage Sites. Even today, the Jesuit reductions’ buildings are being used. Regardless, the maintenance of the reductions as heritage sites remains a “Western dream” from today’s point of view.

The reductions survive to this day


In the early 18th century, Baar is a small, catholic village. The residents’ main sources of income are farming, cattle trade, and domestic work. At that point, the Old Swiss Confederacy is a loose union of sovereign cantons, associated places, and subject regions.

Pater Martin Schmid leaves the village Baar at 16 years old in the year 1710 to attend the Jesuit College in Lucerne. At age 32, he sets out to travel to the reductions in Bolivia. It is impossible for him to know if he’d ever return to his home country. Nevertheless, the letters he composed for his relatives back in Baar during the entire journey confirm that he stayed closely connected to his family and home. Sometimes, he missed certain familiar Swiss customs in Bolivia.


National identity is a construction of images. They are connected to the nation and help its members create an identity. Images can include various types of communication, including pictures, symbols, metaphors, or stereotypes. However, they do not show the actual reality of society, but only a representation of it. National identity is therefore a construct. Which symbols are imprinted in your memory depends on your own experiences. Your origins, your social, cultural, political and economic conditions, play an important role.


Which images do you associate your national identity with?


There is a long-standing tradition of questioning the essence of Swissness. Which elements of the collective understanding of Switzerland and Swissness are the most important to you?


What motivated Pater Martin Schmid’s actions in Bolivia? Are we influenced by similar ideals and utopias today? Go on a journey through time and discover if you consider life to be a celebration to enjoy, a gift to honor, a puzzle to solve, or should be played like a game. What will you choose?

Scan this QR code and log in. Participate in all six games in the exhibition and find out if you belong to the realists, the enjoyers, the idealists, or the opportunists at the end.

Make your own choice!


The Jesuits benefit from the colonial expansion of European powers from the 16th century onwards. They strive to spread the Catholic faith through missionary work overseas. The Jesuits are particularly effective because they engage intensively with the local culture. And yet, a power imbalance remains between the locals and the missionaries. Indigenous people are stereotyped, described as “wild” and compared to animals. The racist thought patterns are also reproduced and spread through reports to Europe. This also applies to Pater Martin Schmid, who uses racist and exoticizing descriptions in his letters.


Maps represent a certain way of seeing the world. This primarily relates to ownership, exclusivity and power relations. What happens if we look at our map of the world differently for once? Instead of national borders, we follow indigenous lines. This shows us that our world could look completely different today.

Alternative Maps “Native Land”

Despite the decolonization in the 19th and 20th century, the aftereffects of colonialism can still be felt today: On the one hand, economic and political dependencies define international politics. On the other hand, colonial images and racist ideas are still present all over the world today. In Switzerland in particular, there is still little awareness of colonial issues. Racism is seen as something foreign and is rarely reflected on. Colonial images have to be exposed and their racist impact made visible. Only once we understand how the view of the “foreign other” still works today, and that white people are privileged, can the Eurocentric perception be broken and decolonization begin.


Where do you still see colonial structures today?



Compared to many of his contemporaries, Martin Schmid grew up in a respected family home. He can read and write and attends the Jesuit college. He lives much longer than the average person at the time.

We don't know how much Pater Martin Schmid knew about the world when he boarded the ship to South America in 1728. The probability of dying from a foreign disease, however, is high during the crossing or afterwards in Bolivia. His letters during the journey are composed with that in mind: he writes as if it were his last word.


We have more information at our fingertips today than ever before. However, we don't all have the same level of knowledge. Depending on where we get our information, we understand the world from a certain perspective. Because of the decline of local news and the rise of globalized digital media, we sometimes know more about world events than about day-to-day local politics.

A lot of knowledge exchange takes place on the Internet and on social media, where we are all exposed to algorithms, interest bubbles and “fake news”. Our knowledge – and thus the basis for our decisions – still depends on our circumstances, our environment, and the media landscape.


How is your knowledge formed?


Pater Martin Schmid's story is still told today because his descendants have carefully preserved his letters from Bolivia. Additionally, various authors write books about him. Each of them paints a different picture of him.

After Schmid's death, fellow missionary José Manuel Peramás writes his first biography. He is described as a Jesus-like figure, never showing any temper. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jesuit Joseph Spillmann from Zug writes an adventure novel about Schmid. In the 1940s and 1950s, Jesuit Felix Plattner glorifies Schmid as “God’s mercenary” and “genius in the jungle.” Well into the 21st century, Schmid is treated as a gifted architect and musician. Schmid becomes a canvas for the projection of various ideals that are continually reinterpreted over the centuries.



Letter number 21: Pater Martin Schmid to his brother Franz Silvan Schmid, Chiquitos, September 28, 1761.


Received letters. Mother’s death. Church building in San Rafael. Calling to San Xavier and Concepcion. Settlement of wild Indians in San Juan and missionary work. Life of the forest Indians. Altar buildings in Concepcion, San Miguel and San Ignacio. Answer to questions from nephew Franz Christoph in 1752: cattle, eating habits, brandy and potatoes, corn. Prayers. Greetings. Newspaper reports about war in Europe, Paraguay,

Expulsion of Jesuits in Portugal. Addendum (in the envelope).



Letter number 22: Pater Martin Schmid to his brother Fr. Franz Schmid OFM Cap, Chiquitos, October 5, 1767.


Expulsion of the Jesuits from the Spanish colonies. Old and sick missionaries are allowed to stay, including Father Martin. Surrender to God's will. Ask for prayer. Letter bearers Fr. Julian Knogler and Br. Andreas Roth. (Envelope and address have not been preserved.)

Letters from  Pater Martin Schmid

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