Discovering Geneva: St. Peter’s Cathedral

Post by Lauren

It’s always nice to have folks in town because you can see the city through different eyes and also in different seasons. On Monday, Gabe had to work, but Pascal, Giselle and I set out for an afternoon of Geneva exploration.

We started with a walk to Old Town, or la Vieille Ville, in French. I have talked about this part of Geneva before on the blog, but case you are just joining us, it is the old walled city.

When I took a tour as a student of University of Geneva, one American frat guy asked our professor which side of the wall the city was on – the really high hillside, or down below. The teacher held it together. Of course, the town was on the hill. Towns in that day and age had to build high and fortify for their protection. Geneva was an extremely coveted independent state and had a very desirable bridge across the Rhone at a strategic point…actually, the only bridge in the Roman era. When I recapped the Escalade Festival , the post recaps the most famous attempt to take Geneva.

It’s actually pretty neat that underneath the St. Antoine parking structure, you can see the original Roman walls that still exist and are well preserved in the transformation to parking garage. They didn’t know they were there until they started work on this parking structure and now they have a little exhibition underground so you can get an idea of what the city looked like when it was walled and surrounded by moats for protection.



This city model in the Maison Tavel museum depicts how the city was perched above and how moats/dredges were dug so that enemies were kept out.


St. Peter’s Cathedral (St. Pierre’s in French) commands the view in Old Town as the tallest building/steeple. It was originally Roman and from the 8th to 10th centuries, it was one of three different cathedrals to co-exist on the site. Underneath the present cathedral, excavators found remains of 4th Century Christian sanctuaries, portions of mosaic floors from the Roman times and a crypt.


St. Peter's Cathedral - present day

However, St. Peter’s is most notably known for being where John Calvin gave his sermons in the mid 16th Century.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting of Calvin preaching in St. Peter’s

In the 1530’s, Martin Luther had just started in Germany, the printing press had begun to print copies of the Bible, and Geneva had just opted for the Reformation. Calvin, a young French man, was passing through Geneva (he stayed at a hotel in nowadays Place du Molard) on his way to Strasbourg. He hadn’t planned to stay, but later returned to contribute to the foundation of Protestantism.

Geneva then became a refuge for Protestant people to escape persecution in France, Italy and other neighboring countries. More on this and its contribution to Genva society as we know it can be found here in an earlier blog post.

Someone who doesn’t know the teaching of Calvin might characterize St. Peter’s cathedral as the most bland church in all of Europe. However, it was intentionally so. Calvin was very strict in his views that money should not be spent on embellishing the church. So much so that all its altars, statues, paintings and furniture were stripped away during his time. There is still very little decoration, only tiny stained glass windows.


Recent trips to cathedrals in Madrid, Siena, Florence and Lyon show that the Spanish, Italian and French have different theories than Calvin on church decoration


Despite its very simple interior, there are really amazing views from the top of the cathedral. This were actually taken in the Fall vs. our winter trip as it was a bit cloudy that day.


I find it interesting Geneva still serves as a haven for those escaping religious and political persecution. Makes me grateful that I was born in a country in which we didn’t have to fear for either.


2 thoughts on “Discovering Geneva: St. Peter’s Cathedral

  1. Pingback: Discovering Geneva: The Patek Philippe Museum | The Swiss Watch Blog

  2. Pingback: Discovering Geneva: Archeological Site of Saint-Pierre | The Swiss Watch Blog

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