The Reformation Wall (le mur des réformateurs) is a monument in Geneva dedicated to the memory of the Protestant Reformation, and one of the city’s major tourist destinations (or, at least, it is for those of us more occupied with 500-year-old history than with lakes and mountains). The Reformation Wall is one of ten features recommended by Geneva’s International Museum of the Reformation to “walk in the footsteps of the Reformation” — you can find the suggested route (in English) here.
The wall is an impressive monument, featuring inscriptions in five languages (French, German, Dutch, English, and Latin), and celebrating international figures ranging from Luther to Zwingli and events ranging from Geneva’s adoption of the Protestant Reformation (1536) to the Mayflower Compact (1620) and England’s Glorious Revolution (1688).
Four figures, the major reformers of Geneva, form the central feature of the wall: Guillaume Farel, the French preacher who first reformed the city of Neuchâtel; John Calvin, Geneva’s own reformer (who actually arrived in the city after the vote in favor of the Reformation); Theodore Beza, who became Geneva’s main preacher after Calvin’s death in 1564; and John Knox, the reformer of Scotland who lived in Geneva during the Marian exile (1556-1559). The wall also plays homage to one woman: Marie Dentière, a former nun who, among other things, tried to convert Geneva’s nuns to Protestantism and wrote an impressive open letter to Marguerite of Navarre, sister of the King of France. (Dentière’s writings have recently been translated to English, and are well worth the read.)
This spring Geneva celebrated the Reformation Wall’s centennial: built between 1909 and 1917, the construction of the monument marked the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth (1509), as well as the 350th anniversary of the creation of the Genevan Academy (1559). The wall is part of Geneva’s Parc des Bastions, located directly across from the entrance to the University of Geneva-Bastions building. On sunny days, this park is full of students eating lunch, smoking cigarettes, and studying. The park also attracts other Genevans in addition to tourists, and on the nicest days there are impromptu ‘dance parties’ in front of Calvin’s statue, which I can only imagine wouldn’t please him greatly! But not all Genevans know about what the monument celebrates — on the bus, I recently overheard a young woman describing the Parc des Bastions to her companion as “the park near the uni with the weird statues of men — who knows what that’s about!”
In addition to the monument’s centennial, another celebration is occurring: the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Over the weekend I attended an international celebration at the wall that included speeches from Geneva’s mayor, H.E. Rémy Pagani, and University of Geneva Professor Michel Grandjean. Both the mayor and Prof. Grandjean highlighted the role that Geneva played as a city of refuge during the Reformation — the city’s population more than doubled due to the influx of refugees (mainly Huguenots fleeing France, but also Protestants from other Catholic countries, including Spain and Italy). They argued, to cheers from the crowd, that the city of Geneva should continue to embrace its heritage as a city that welcomes refugees.