Historical Churches, Geneva

Historical Churches (Self Guided), Geneva

As the cradle of the Reformist movement in Europe, led by theologian Jean Calvin, the city of Geneva has no shortage of religious sites representing a great deal of historical and cultural value. If you're a dedicated Christian, a keen church goer or simply interested in objects of spirituality, take this self-guided tour to visit the most notable places of worship in Geneva.
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Historical Churches Map

Guide Name: Historical Churches
Guide Location: Switzerland » Geneva (See other walking tours in Geneva)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: john
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Eglise Russe
  • Auditoire de Calvin
  • Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral)
  • Eglise Saint-Germain
  • Temple de la Fusterie
  • Temple Saint-Gervais
  • Basilique Notre-Dame
Eglise Russe

1) Eglise Russe

The Eglise Russe (Russian Church), otherwise known as the Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, is a historic Russian Orthodox temple in Geneva attached to a parish established on the orders of Emperor Alexander I in 1817. The temple was built in 1866, funded with generous donations by the Russian Grand Duchess Anna Fyodorovna, who lived in Switzerland at that time after separating from her husband, Grand Duke Constantine, as well as other members of the Imperial family of Alexander II (Michael, Olga, Constantine, Helena, Mary and Nicholas of Leuchtenberg), plus the Metropolitan of Kiev, Arsenius Moskvin.

The emergence of this church became possible after the revolution of 1846, following which the Geneva Constitution of 1847 guaranteed freedom of worship to various religious communities within the city. Among them was a small Russian diaspora comprising diplomats, military officers, aristocrats, engineers, civil servants, tourists, students and even left-wing activists. The building features Byzantine design, topped with nine bright golden onion domes and striped arches: five above the nave (symbolizing Jesus Christ and the four Evangelists), three on the apses, and one on the bell tower. Their total number represents the hierarchy of angels, composed of nine choirs.

The construction was carried out by Geneva-based architect, Jean-Pierre Guillebaud, to the design made by professor of architecture at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, David Grimm. The foundation stone was laid on September 26, 1863 in the presence of Princes Serge and Georges de Leuchtenberg, the Russian Ambassador to Switzerland, as well as the State Councilor, Moïse Vautier. After three years of work, the church was completed on September 14, 1866 and was consecrated on September 26 of the same year by the Archpriests Joseph Vasiliev of Paris, Vassili Polejaiev of Nice, and Athanase Pétroff.

The Russian Church remains in active use to date, with the services held in Russian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and other languages.
Auditoire de Calvin

2) Auditoire de Calvin

Originally known as the Notre-Dame-la-Neuve Chapel, the Calvin Auditorium or Calvin Auditory (French: Auditoire de Calvin) is a chapel which played a significant role in the Protestant Reformation, and is closely associated with Jean Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox.

Directly adjacent to St. Pierre Cathedral in Place de la Taconnerie, this austere Gothic-style edifice was constructed in the 15th century on the site of a 5th-century temple, and was initially dedicated to Notre Dame la Neuve.

From 1536, the time of Geneva's Reformation, it had been used as a lecture hall where Jean Calvin actively expounded his reformist theology, with the Bible studies conducted here at 7 o'clock every morning. In 1559, it served as the original home of the University of Geneva. Once Geneva accepted the Reformation, it became a haven for Protestant refugees from all over Europe, and Calvin passed this building over to them for worshiping in their own language. It was also used by the Scottish reformer John Knox during his exile to Geneva in the 1550s. Here, he ministered to an English-speaking refugee congregation and developed many of the ideas that proved influential in the Scottish Reformation movement. Subsequently, it became a place used by numerous Protestant refugee groups, including Italian Waldensians, Dutch Reformed and Scottish Presbyterians, and, as such, has been viewed by many Reformed churches throughout the world as a crucible of their faith.

Nowadays, in keeping with tradition established by Calvin, this protestant chapel still offers sermons in French, English, Dutch, German, Italian and Latin, and hosts congregations of the Italian Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland as its main place of worship every Sunday.

In 1963, a two-manual mechanical-action pipe organ, built by Gruaz, was installed in the Auditoire de Calvin. In 2009, during the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, the need for a more versatile organ became apparent. Funds for it were raised through a series of concerts, generous individual donations and support from the Hans Wilsdorf Foundation and the Loterie Romande. The new organ was installed in April 2014 and was celebrated with a concert festival that has since become annual.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral)

3) Cathédrale de St. Pierre (St. Pierre Cathedral) (must see)

The St. Pierre Cathedral is probably one of the best-known religious sights in Geneva. Originally built as a Roman Catholic cathedral, St. Pierre became a Reformed Protestant Church during the Reformation, and was actively used by the reformists for their daily sermons. It is known as the adopted home church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation; inside there is a wooden chair he used.

The history of this church, however, goes back to the 12th century, hence the mix of Roman, Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. Although there had been a cathedral on this site since the fourth century, the present building was begun under Arducius de Faucigny, the prince-bishop of the Diocese of Geneva, around 1160. The interior of the large, cruciform, late-Gothic church was stripped of its rood screen, side chapels and all decorative works of art, leaving a vast, white-washed interior contrasting sharply with the interior of a typical Roman Catholic Church.

A Neo-Classical main façade was added in the 18th century. In the 1890s, Genevans redecorated a large, side chapel adjacent to the cathedral's main doors in polychrome, Gothic revival style. In 1444, German artist Konrad Witz painted here the so-called “Miraculous Draught of Fishes”, which is now held in the Museum of History in Geneva.

Each summer there are bilingual services held in the cathedral for both German and French speaking worshipers.

Inside, you can find an exquisite little chapel with astonishing carved figures and a beautiful organ - Chapel of the Maccabees.
Underneath the cathedral there is an interesting archaeological site.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am-5:30pm; Sun: 12pm-5:30pm (Oct-May); Mon-Sat: 9am-6:30pm; Sun: 12pm-6:30pm; carillon concert: 5pm; organ concert: 6pm (Jun-Sep)
Free admission. Last entry to the tower: half an hour before Cathedral's closing time.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Eglise Saint-Germain

4) Eglise Saint-Germain

The Church of Saint-Germain de Genève is a Catholic place of worship, one of the seven historic parishes in the city. The current Gothic-style edifice was built in the 15th century, initially as a Protestant church. It stands on the site of an early Christian basilica dating from the 9th century, succeeded by a Romanesque church built in the 12th century and renovated, following a fire, in 1334.

The first ever Reformation preaching in Geneva took place inside this very church in 1535. Between 1537 and 1554, the building was used as a butcher's shop. It fully resumed religious service – as a Protestant sanctuary – in the 18th century, temporarily replacing the Saint-Pierre cathedral.

After the French invasion in the early 19th century and the ensued concordat of 1801 between Pope Pius VII and Napoleon Bonaparte, which obliged the local authorities to tolerate the presence of a Roman Catholic church in the city, the Saint-Germain church was designated for conversion in 1803. In 1873, it was put at the disposal of the Christian Catholic Church and, after the separation of the Church from the State in 1907, became the property of the Christian Catholic Church of Geneva.

A devastating fire in the bell tower in the early 20th century destroyed the church bells. To replace the damage, a bell from the city clock tower, weighing 120 kilos, cast in Geneva by Jean-Louis Revillard in 1764, was brought in. The entire renovation lasted from 1906 to 1908. In 1908, outside the wall of the sacristy, above a fountain, a sundial made by Genevan artist Albert Schmidt was installed. This sundial shows only the morning hours and carries a motif, featuring death riding a donkey under the sun, in which death represents the vanity of the earthly life.

In 1921, the Saint-Germain was declared a historic monument and a Swiss cultural property of national importance. As of 1973, it has been hosting outdoor summer concerts of classical music. In 2008, to mark the centenary of the 1908 restoration of the bell tower, two additional bells, weighing 260 kg and 70 kg each, cast by the Paccard foundry in Annecy, were added.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Temple de la Fusterie

5) Temple de la Fusterie

Located in the eponymous square at the heart of the Old Town of Geneva, the Temple de la Fusterie is a Reformed church that is distinguished from other local churches as the first religious site in the city specifically built for Calvinist worship. It was designed by architect Jean Vennes, taking two years to build – from 1713, and was consecrated on December 15, 1715.

Amid the inflow of oppressed Huguenot refugees from France to Geneva, the church imitated – in terms of both, architectural style and spatial planning – the Huguenot temple in the Paris suburb of Charenton-le-Pont that was designed by influential French architect Salomon de Bross in 1623 and destroyed in 1686.

The temple boasts late Baroque style, with a big clock at the top of the main façade. Contrary to the latter, the interior is rather modest, with a dormant and encircling gallery of Tuscan order colonnades and another colonnade set above the gallery, supporting the ceiling, which is flat, thus creating a basket arch vault above the main room of the nave.

Initially, the temple did not have an organ, which appeared only in the middle of the 18th century. The visual centerpiece of the church is the organ loft of the detached pulpit. Known for its excellent acoustics, the church serves as a concert hall these days. The musical performances last about 15 minutes.
Temple Saint-Gervais

6) Temple Saint-Gervais

The Temple of Saint-Gervais is a Protestant church in the eponymous quarter of Geneva. The first temple on the site was built in the 4th century and was replaced with a Romanesque church in the 10th century. The latter had profoundly changed its appearance over time, particularly after a fire in 1345. It was completely rebuilt from 1436, upon which it was dedicated to Saint Gervais, thus giving its name to the surrounding district. In the 17th century, the church underwent further major modifications, attaining a Gothic style, funded with donations from local watchmakers, jewelers and goldsmiths residing in the area.

During the establishment of the Protestant Reformation, the building was dedicated to Protestant worship. At that point it was transformed with an installation of a pulpit in the nave and galleries along the north side; these will be destroyed in 1903, all except one which will be transformed into a sacristy. In 1901, a major restoration of the building saw, among other features, the addition of several stained glass windows, including that of Henri Demole on the eastern theme of Escalade.

Under the temple there is an archaeological site which is also classified and includes the remains of the Gallo-Roman building and the early Christian church. Excavations were carried out in two stages, from 1987 to 1994, and then from 2000 to 2005, over an area of nearly 2,000 square meters. The ensemble is open to the public and can be visited as part of an archaeological walk.

The building is currently listed as a Swiss cultural property of national importance and is frequently used as a concert hall.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Basilique Notre-Dame

7) Basilique Notre-Dame

The Basilique de Notre-Dame is the main Catholic church in Geneva. It was built according to the design of Alexandre Grigny, between 1852 and 1857, on the site of former stronghold fortifications. This Neo-Gothic building, whose appearance is partly inspired by the Beauvais Cathedral, could break ground thanks to the city of Geneva ceding land to religious communities to build places of worship, and to the donations and manual labor provided by the Genevan Catholics.

The statue of Our Lady of Geneva, offered by the Pope Pius IX, is venerated; however, it is the basilica's stained glass windows that are particularly remarkable. Some of them are semi-industrial production Neo-Gothic, but most show the evolution of the art of stained glass during the 20th century, in various styles, after those of Claudius Lavergne (installed from 1857 to 1875). From 1912, several artists have successively contributed to adorning the basilica, including Charles Brunner, Alexandre Cingria, Maurice Denis, Gherri Moro, Paul Monnier, Jean-Claude Morend, Théodore Strawinsky.

The building is classified as a cultural property of national importance.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 6:30-7:30pm; Sun: 7am-9pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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