In the footsteps of the Reformation
Do you know why watches are so important in Geneva? It’s all because of the Reformation. John Calvin, one of the leading lights of the Reformation movement, banned the wearing of jewellery as he thought this to be too ostentatious for their pared back religious movement. But watches were considered an essential item for work and so they managed to avoid being blacklisted. So watchmaking became a treasured profession in the city, with former jewellers specialising in them – and over time the watches became more and more embellished with decoration.
The Reformation began in Europe as a reaction to the excesses of Catholicism. In 1517, Martin Luther published a book called NinetyFive Theses, which criticised the sale of indulgences (i.e. buying your way to heaven) and insisted that the Pope did not have any authority over purgatory. Luther believed that only faith, not good deeds, could bring salvation. Due to the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, his ideas were able to spread rapidly throughout Europe, and also spurned other reformation movements, the largest of these being the Lutherians and Calvinists.
William Farel is known as the founder of the Reformation in Geneva and also for persuading John Calvin in May 1536 to stay in the city for two years to organise the new church. John Knox was also influenced by Calvin whilst living in exile in Geneva. S
But the change in religion was much more than just that, for those living in Geneva: the Reformation was synonymous with revolution. By renouncing the Catholic faith, the Genevese also broke with their ruler, the Bishop of Geneva, to become an independent republic. This decision shaped the destiny of the city for centuries to follow. John Calvin not only organised the new church in the city, he also fashioned the small republic into one of the centres of Christianity.
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and Geneva’s important part in this historic movement. Traditionally known mostly for its skiing, watches and chocolate, the city of Geneva has much more to offer and this is a perfect excuse to visit and discover this history of the city. There are 10 main sites to visit on the Reformation trail, and they can easily be reached on foot as the city is compact and easy to get around. The trams, however, are an easier way to get to the old, hillier part of the city if you prefer!