The Cathedral of St. Peter in Geneva is best known as the church where John Calvin gave his inspiring sermons during the mid-16th century, but it has other attractions as well. The imposing Romanesque-Gothic church with a Neoclassical facade still dominates the center of the international Swiss city.
History of Geneva Cathedral
The site of St. Peter's Cathedral has been occupied at least since the 4th century, which you can see for yourself by touring the archaeological site underneath.
Excavations have revealed the remains of two 4th-century Christian sanctuaries, mosaic floors from the late Roman Empire, portions of three early churches, and an 11th-century crypt beneath the present cathedral.
The first Romanesque cathedral on the site was built in 1000. Construction on the present building began in 1160 and lasted 150 years, by which time the Romanesque architecture had acquired Gothic touches. The Chapelle des Macchabees was added in 1397.
The Catholic cathedral of St. Peter became a Protestant church in 1536. John Calvin preached here from 1536 to 1564, and the cathedral became the guiding center of Protestantism. Like reformers all over Europe, Calvin's followers stripped Geneva's cathedral of its altars, statues, paintings and furniture. Only the stained glass windows remained.
The Gothic façade of the cathedral was replaced with the present Neoclassical one in 1750.
What to See at Geneva Cathedral
The exterior of Geneva's cathedral exhibits a strange confusion of styles — it's a squat Romanesque church with a columned Neoclassical facade; the two square towers on the east end don't match; and there is a bright green spire (from the late 1800s) rising above everything else. But things are much better inside.
The nave is generally austere but warm, with a pleasing mix of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. The austerity is due to the former cathedral's transformation into a Protestant Church in 1536. The Calvinists had little tolerance for religious images and any kind of excess, so they destroyed nearly everything but the bare architecture and whitewashed over the murals.
Fortunately, there were a few survivors of all this destruction - the stained glass in the chancel and the wonderful Romanesque capitals in the nave, which depict both human figures and a variety of mythical creatures.
Also of interest are the fine 15th-century choir stalls, which have some fascinating misericords. These survived the Reformation because they weren't here at the time - they are from the destroyed Chapelle des Florentins.
Northwest of the choir is the Rohan Chapel, which contains the 19th-century tomb of Duc Henri de Rohan (1579-1638), leader of the French Protestants.
The 14th-century Gothic Chapel of the Maccabees was used as a warehouse and then a lecture hall after the Reformation, but in 1878, it was reconsecrated and richly decorated.
Last but not least, there is a spectacular panoramic view of Geneva available from the north tower of the cathedral, which is reached by climbing 157 narrow, winding steps. The entrance is at the left of the far end of the nave; nearby is what is said to be Calvin's chair, which is suitably austere and practical.
As mentioned above, beneath the cathedral is a very important archeological site (see our separate article for details) with artifacts from the arrival of Christianity in Geneva to the 11th century. It was discovered underneath the Cathédrale St-Pierre when its foundations began to falter in 1976.
Quick Facts on Geneva Cathedral
|Names:||Cathédrale St-Pierre · Geneva Cathedral · St. Peter's Cathedral|
|Categories:||cathedrals; Reformation history sites|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.201176° N, 6.148353° E|
|Address:||Cours St-Pierre 6|
|Phone:||(0)22 311 75 75|
|Hours:||Jun-Sep: Mon-Sat 9:30-6:30, Sun 12-6:30|
Oct-May: Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5
|Lodging:||View hotels near Geneva Cathedral|
- Personal visit (December 23, 2006)
- The Rough Guide to Switzerland
- Temple de St-Pierre, Geneva - Planetware
- Cathédrale St-Pierre – Fodor's Online Travel Guide
- La Cathédrale St Pierre - WGuides
Map of Geneva Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Geneva Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.