HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO THE REFORMATION WALL
by Vivian Holding
My pocket-sized history lessons continue with a focus one of the city’s most emblematic monuments – The Reformation Wall – which celebrates its 100th year anniversary in May 2017.
There has never been a better time to learn more about the history of this impressive monument in the Parc des Bastions – so I’ll share a few facts to help you impress your guests.
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO BUILD THE REFORMATION WALL?
It was in 1902 that the theologian Auguste Chantre had the idea of doing something to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Calvin, which was to take place seven years later, in 1909. A committee was formed and there then followed an international competition for a design of a monument to mark the importance of the Protestant Reformation in the city.
WHO WON THE COMPETITION?
The competition was open to anyone, regardless of nationality or religion. Over 70 projects were submitted – and guess who won? The Swiss! (funny that,eh?!) Apparently the innovative design of the Swiss architects Monod, Laverrière, Taillens and Dubois was the unanimous winner.
The French sculptors Bouchard and Landowski were given the task of creating it.
Landowski (see photo) is famous for being the sculptor of one of the most impressive landmarks in the World – the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, which was built after the Reformation Wall in 1931 and stands at over 30 metres high (I’m guessing he enjoyed working on large scale models!). Click here for further details on his work.
Constructed in pink tinted stone from Pouillenay in Bourgogne, France, the wall is 8 metres in height by 120 metres in length and cost over CHF720,000 – financed by private donations.
Finding the right location was not easy. The Botanical Gardens moved to its existing location in 1904 and so the Promenade des Bastions was the chosen location, at the base of the old city walls on land that belongs to the University of Geneva – which itself was founded by Calvin. Read about the 2017 renovations at the Parc des Bastions here.
Work started in April 1909, but good old French workers’ strikes as well as the onset of the First World War delayed the construction. Work was finally completed and on the 7th July 1917 the inauguration of the monument took place.
WHO WERE THE FOUR MAIN REFORMATERS?
The largest of the statues on the wall are of the four main reformators – John Calvin, William Farel, Théodore de Beza and John Knox, each 6 meters in height, dressed in academic robes and holding Christian bibles. The other six smaller sculptures, 3 metres in height, on either side of the main statues are of men who were pioneers of the Reform in the United States and in Europe.
To the left (facing the Wall, from left to right) of the central statues are Frederick William of Bradenburg, William the Silent and Gaspard de Coligny. To the right (from left to right) are Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell and Stephan Bocskai.
Along the wall, to either side of the central statues, is engraved the motto of both the Reformation and Geneva – Post Tenebras Lux (Latin for ‘After darkness, light’).
Also discretely engraved into the wall is the only name of a female Reformer – Marie Dentière. See if you can find it – it’s quite often obscured by bushes that grow up in front of it. Click here to find out more about her.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE MONUMENT?
Over 100 pieces are brought together at the Maison Tavel (click here) as part of an exhibition entitled ‘Faire le Mur’ that retraces the birth and construction of the monument. Rejected plans, re-worked sculptures, the original moulds of the faces of both Calvin and Knox as well as artistic and technical plans and drawings document the history of the construction of the wall.
Maison Tavel, 6 rue du Puits-Saint-Pierre, 1204 Genève. Open 11am-6pm (closed on Monday), CHF5/3 entrance. Free for under 18s and the first Sunday of the month. Exhibition runs until 29th October 2017.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE REFORMATION?
The International Museum of the Reformation (MIR) was founded in 2005. It sets out to explain and explore how John Calvin set out to turn Geneva into a model for a new way of living the Christian life, to serve as an example to the world.
If you’d like to walk the Reformation route, click here to download the map in English or alternatively collect a map from the Museum itself.
International Museum of the Reformation, 4 rue du Cloître, 1204 Genève. Audio guides in English, French and are available. Guided tours are also available in English. Click here for more information.