International Museum of the Reformation

Dr. Isabelle Graesslé


International Museum of the Reformation

4 rue du Cloître 1204 Geneva Switzerland

A forum for free speech

You have to imagine a mountain of old books, smelling quite musty, preferably in Latin! You have to imagine manuscripts nobody can decipher but which have lately become quite precious since they are now in the "top ten" of the Christie''s and Sotheby''s selling''s ! You have to imagine portraits of waxen characters, drawn by unknown painters, edifying engravings or polemical if not nasty! You have to imagine a minimum of objects sad as never, with no women, no bright colors, no cherubshellip; If you can imagine all of that, you will have in front of you the kind of material we had at disposal in order to build a Museum of the Reformation, which should have normally given us the price of the ugliest and most boring museum of all Europe!

But actually a wonderful combination of talented people transformed this inform amount of objects in an attractive material, instructive, moving and convincing. First of all, the price we obtained in 2007 is due to all the museographs, technicians, historians, to all the numerous and competent friends, to all our donors also, since this museum doesn't receive a penny of public money!

This museum is finally the result of a cultural concern, a spiritual preoccupation and a centennial commitment. It is also the expression of an obvious taste for entertainment!

Actually, this is probably why the International Museum of the Reformation got the 2007 Museum Price of the Council of Europe : for this subtle mixing of memory and present, for this special addition of amusing perspective on history and serious matters. A perspective which always consider people respectfully, where they are, along with their believes, with their own religious or non-religious backgrounds.

As Mr. Mikhail Gnedovskiy, member of the Jury of the European Museum Forum told it during the evening of the Price reception, in Strasbourg (April 15, 2007): "this is one of the few museums in Europe dealing with a strictly religious subject and this makes it a daring and innovative institution, the Reformation being one of most bright and dramatic chapters in the European history that has influenced, directly or indirectly, many European countries and had a systemic impact on the European culture."

The role of the Reformation in the European history, in terms of historical facts but also in terms of a pattern for religious conflicts and oppositional doctrines to reconcile for a reasonable "living together", is indeed also an important factor for those 100.000 visitors who have, so fare, visited the Museum. With the so called "return" of religious feelings, with the increasingly growing of identitarian traditions, the approach of the past and of the present developed by the Museum tries to help overcoming the strong difficulties of combining social, political and religious impacts in the current society. In Europe and elsewhere!

As the President of the Strasbourg city community, Mr. Robert Grossmann, puts it in his allocution at the Price reception: one has still to realize "the obvious relationship between the Protestant ethics and the realization of the European unity, i.e. between the spiritual movement of the Reformation and the affirmation of moral values and principals which are founding the civilization which all share together. [hellip;] With the Reformation, we talk also about European destiny."

But let us make a stop to actually discover the Museum. Just let me drive you through this 18th century Mansion, la Maison Mallethellip;

Three years after the opening of the Museum, where are we now, with this special patrimonial place, entirely private (since the Geneva canton lives through a strict separation between State and Church) ?
The new challenge is around the corner, since 2009 will celebrate the 500 years of John Calvin's birth. For the Museum, it will mean its first temporary exhibit (from April 24 to October 31), entitled "A Day in the Life of John Calvin", which will offer visitors of all ages an opportunity to follow a day in Calvin''s life in three dimensions. The exhibition aims to attract visitors from all over the world thanks to its modern design, featuring virtual representations of the Reformation-era world and Calvin's main occupations. These 3D simulations of the Reformer in his familiar surroundings and activities will help foster a better understanding of his life and actions, in the manner of a documentary film.

The eight small pavilions of the exhibition will follow John Calvin throughout a typical day, from the time he woke, usually around 4 am, until his bedtime, around 9 pm. Scenes will include a service at Saint-Pierre Cathedral, a tumultuous gathering of the Consistory, and a fateful meeting between the reformer and Michael Servetus. In each pavilion, the voices of Calvin, his friends, and adversaries, combined with the sounds of the city, will provide an understanding of both the life of the reformer and daily life in Geneva. Surrounded by historically accurate sets, a three-dimensional, animated figure of Calvin will employ simulation technologies developed by Prof. Nadia Thalmann's MIRALab laboratory at the University of Geneva to speak directly to visitors.
Several 16th-century engravings, objects and books will also be featured in the exhibition.
As one future visitor told it: "With this exhibition, you will bring Calvin alivehellip;!"

2010 will see the expansion of the existing 20th century room: to To "complete the storyline" by adding a room covering the international spread of the Reformed churches until the present day. The churches issued from the Reformation in the USA are major protagonists of this story.
The following years will be times to enlarge some special topics such as "Reformation and economics", "Protestant educational process" or "Women and Protestantism".

By its very nature, the Museum aims to play a very specific role, as a distinctive cultural attraction both for Geneva residents and visitors. Indeed, the Museum is now becoming a significant cultural force: a place for exchanges and discussion concerning the great philosophical and religious questions that confront our society. The Museum hopes in this way to contribute to this mission of "revelation", by helping us come to terms with the past, understand the present, update some of the essential questions and trace new paths ahead.


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