Of Calvin and Genevan Dogs

Calvinus AuthenticusWith no reference to our gracious Genevese hosts for the last 8 days I thought it would be fun to bring my experience of the 2009 Calvinpalooza to a close with a few more mundane observations. You know, of course, that Calvin frequently described his opponents as “dogs.” Near the end of his life he recounted that, during his tenure in Geneva, people walked through the streets of Geneva calling for their dogs, “Ici Calvin, ici Calvin!” (“Here Calvin, here Calvin!”). In the same discourse he also recalled the firing of 40-50 shots from a musket (l’arquebuse) outside his house—just a few yards away from Eglise St. Pierre. Thus I take it that these things left their psychological marks on him.

  • Genevan dogs, i.e., those of the literal variety, at least those dozens that we saw, are amazingly disciplined. The only dog who would pay any attention to us or let us pet him/her was not Genevan but French! We saw dogs in the parks, in the streets, and in the cafes, obediently following behind or trotting happily alongside (with or without a leash) their owners.
  • I suppose that things were a bit more reasonable in Calvin’s day, but today if you visit Geneva be prepared to pay dearly. It must be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. More than one well-known Reformed theologian/scholar this week repaired to a nearby local market (e.g. Migros) to find fixings for meals of some kind. I had 3 good meals and many expensive ones. A hamburger and fries (as a Nebraskan, I cannot recommend Genevan hamburgers) at a local restaurant will set you back $30.00. I do not apologize for repairing to McDonalds a couple of times. The “McCrunchy” was better than the much more expensive restaurant food I had in more than one place.
  • I found the people of Geneva to be unfailingly friendly, polite, and helpful to this ignorant stranger. Perhaps it is because even the most routine expression of “Bonjour!” seems like a song. Having lived in “tourist towns” I understand the love/hate relationship locals have with visitors. We were treated well.
  • Geneva is an international city, a city of refugees. In it is a host of international agencies: The UN, the Red Cross, and on and on. It became an international city during Calvin’s ministry in(post 1541) when it became the “hospital of Europe.” It grew very quickly from a city of 10,000 (or perhaps 12,000) to 20,000. The city faced a housing crisis of immense proportions. The city council addressed the problem by ordering residents to add two floors to their houses! The old city was, of course, a walled-city for self-defense. There was no “open borders” policy. It’s just that there were so many genuinely needed Reformed refugees fleeing to Geneva from France, the British Isles, and Italy (among other places) for safety and for the freedom to worship God according to his Word. Today Geneva is a city of about 400,000. The city walls are long gone.
  • There are still Turretins (Turretini) in Geneva. I think this (right) may be La Maison Turretini (just around the corner from Eglise St Pierre). The house in which Calvin lived for 20 years and in which Beza lived for 41 ywears was bought by a banker, became the home of the papal emissary, and was later destroyed. Today the department of education has a building there. There is virtually no recognition of Beza in Geneva apart from a few street signs near the academy for “Rue Theodore de Beze.” His grave was apparently in the cloister (next to Eglise St Pierre) and is now covered by the building that hosts the fascinating International Museum of the Reformation. Calvin’s grave, of course, was unmarked and is unknown to historians. Tourist guides will take you to a grave marker but that’s just for tourists. He was buried in that cemetery but no one knows where. While I’m at it, the beautiful structure called “Calvin’s pulpit” in Eglise St Pierre was re-built in the 19th-century. I think the “Chaise Calvin” (left) underneath the pulpit is authentic.
  • Looking back at the city from the lake it is evident that today there are two cities. The skyline of the old city is dominated the Eglise St. Pierre. The new city, which long ago burst the walls of the old city, is dominated by international banks and agencies.  The contrast between the two cities (hmm, there’s a phrase) is striking.
  • The fairly wild parade in Geneva, held on our first day there, put an exclamation point on the triumph of the libertines in Geneva since the time of Rousseau. In fact some of the old families, with names recognizable to those familiar with Calvin’s biography, continue to reside in Geneva. In some ways it seems as if they waited him out. The Calvinists had their tenure in Geneva (about 250 years) but today Genevans seem to regard that period the way we look back at the Salem Witch trials. There was a large “Huguenot Village” in the Parc de Bastions in Geneva. Each night, for the time we were there, was held a large theatrical (multi-media?) production of “Geneve En Flammes.” Those who saw it said it was quite good. I plead jet lag. There seems to be genuine appreciation for some aspects of the Calvinist influence in Geneva but it is mixed with embarrassment and regret. Interestingly the memorial to Michael Servetus, in the Champel District, is quite small and understated. We were not able to find the neighborhood by bicycle and we did not get that far south on foot (or if we did, we missed it). Ironically, even the photo of the monument (not mine) has been stubborn!
  • One last thing for today. I was impressed by the fact that the building to which Calvin and the Reformed refereed as “Eglise St Pierre” is now described as “St Peter’s Cathedral.” It’s ecumenical (the WCC has roots in the cathedral) and, in some ways, historical. What began as a pre-Christian burial mound for a local chieftain grew up to become a remarkable building that  housed one anti-pope (Robert of Geneva/Clement VII) and one of the great Reformers.

Here endeth the first lesson. More to come. It’s good to be back.

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  1. I have pretty good sketch of Rev. Riddlebarger, but none of you (yet) Dr. Clark! 🙂

    Glad to hear you had a good time in Geneva.

    Blessings, CC

  2. Hi Scott! It was great to meet you and your wife on the conference. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Got a few more days’ holiday to do a bit more sightseeing.

    • Philip,

      It was wonderful to meet you. Glad you got home alright. Jet lag really did me in. Sorry not to see more of you. Hope the conference was edifying. Blessings on your studies as you finish.

  3. Just read the other day on Yahoo.com that Geneva is the 4th most expensive city to live in in the world. Tokyo and another city in Japan are 1 and 2 and Moscow is #3. If I am not mistaken Grand Rapids (“little Geneva”- although it is more populous then the real Geneva) is one of the least expensive cities to live in in the U.S. Not that there is any real comparison between the two cities these days. Little Geneva probably has many more Calvinists living in it then Geneva, Switzerland. It probably would have been more appropriate to celebrate Calvin’s 500th anniversary in Grand Rapids.

  4. Scott, good to have you back on the HB! I’m disappointed I was unable to attend the conference. If I save hard enough, I might be able to make the Calvin 600.

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