The Welcoming City: English-speaking Protestants in Geneva from 1555 to the Present Day

An exhibition at the State Archives Geneva, from 3 November 2003 to 29 April 2004

Report by Valerie Offord

Exhibition Organizer and Archivist of Holy Trinity Church Geneva
June 2004

This was the most successful exhibition the State Archives has mounted in the last 20 years in terms of visitor numbers, interest shown and catalogues sold. I hasten to add that this was the comment of the Geneva State Archives not myself!

The English church community was honoured when the State Archivist, Catherine Santschi, accepted our proposition to display the history of English-speaking Protestants in Geneva from the l6th century to the present day, largely but not exclusively, using Holy Trinity Church archives. This was the first time a ‘foreign’ community had been granted this privilege. The official reason for the exhibition was to mark the 150th anniversary of the building of Holy Trinity Church but as this would have made a very inward looking exhibition I attempted to increase its scope and appeal by choosing subjects which would illustrate the interaction between the Swiss, the Genevese and the English-speaking community as a whole. From the feedback received to date it seems that this approach succeeded extremely well and has contributed to a better understanding and rapport between all those involved.

As my interests are focused mainly on the European Reformation period of the 16th century the Marian exile stay and achievements in Geneva 1555- 1560 was highlighted using documents from the State Archives (Registres de Conseil et Notaires and the Livre des Anglois which is the Register of the English Church under the pastoral care of Knox and Goodman 1555-1559) as well as the publications from Geneva such as the Geneva Bible printed by Rowland Hall in 1560, How superior Powers oght to be obeyd by Christopher Goodman, Sermons of John Calvin on Ezechias translated by Anne Locke in 1560, The lawes and Statutes of Geneua translated by Robert Fills. Notable by their absence (loans between depositories and libraries in this tiny Republic are notoriously difficult to arrange) were the Geneva Psalter, William Whittingham’s New Testament 1557, The Boke of Psalms by Rowland Hall in 1559 and The forme of prayers and ministration of the Sacraments, &c. used in the Englishe Congregation at Geneua and approued by the famous and godly learned man John Caluyn printed by Jean Crespin in 1556. Dr Antoinina Bevan Zlatar contributed research material for a section featuring Anthony Gilby who served both as minister and elder of the English Church in Geneva and who worked on the congregation’s Forme of Prayers. He is best known for his contribution to the Geneva Bible - as a Hebraist was one of the key translators of the Old Testament.

It cannot be denied that the success of the collaboration for the exhibition required a great deal of diplomacy, tact and consideration on all sides. Mr Pierre Fluckiger, the member of the Archives staff designated to help, was efficient, unflappable and unfailingly courteous. He wrote innumerable letters, bypassed the previous practices and traditions in exhibition planning, drew up no end of insurance contracts, saw that all reasonable requests were met. He produced the first draft of the translation from English to French of the entire text of the catalogue and showcase labels in record time and with very limited resources. He ensured that the complicated finances were steered through the bureaucratic channels without disturbing the creative flow of the organizer! But even he was not able to get other institutions to loan many key Marian exile publications for display!

To give a few examples of the slightly unusual nature of the whole undertaking the said Mr Fluckiger was greeted at the foot of the outside staircase at 8am one morning by a fourfold delegation of Civil Servants from various Departments of State, who were joined inside by a fifth member. The purpose of their visit? To discuss the feasibility of drilling 2 small holes in the wall in which to fix a domestic picture rail and hooks from which to hang a poster about John Knox. The wall of the State Archives is an interdepartmental responsibility hence the delegation. Naturally, none of them was so lowly as to know how to use a drill, so that when agreement was finally reached, two workmen had to be sent to actually do it. A scene worthy of the Soviet Union at its paper wielding height and reminiscent of the old joke about how many people it takes to change a light bulb.

On another occasion whilst collecting two models dressed in beautiful replica costumes of King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn from the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire Mr Fluckiger and I managed to drop Anne Boleyn’s head in the gutter. The significance of the executed queen’s head falling may not have been quite so clear to him as to me.

A chance meeting in Geneva with Ms Sue Maunder whose family had lived here in the late 19th and early 20th century resulted in her producing a CD rom based on her family archives. (In the planning stage I had also dreamed of doing a computer presentation on the Livre des Anglois but that would have required even more permissions, time and financial backup than was available last year). It was then discovered that the Archives were not exactly up to date in their display techniques and did not possess an interactive computer terminal. So it was agreed that one should be ‘borrowed’ from the Chancellerie d’Etat who unceremoniously delivered – well dumped - it in the centre of the exhibition space and left: installation was not part of the contract. Anyway, its label ‘Chancellerie’ was instantly obscured by a label ‘Archives’ and it is not at all sure that the Chancellerie will be seeing it again: it now looks perfectly at home in the Archives and is considered an essential display tool of subsequent exhibitions!

The spin off and interest from the exhibition has been quite considerable not only in Geneva and Switzerland but beyond to England and as far as Sri Lanka. The Scottish community in Geneva has been motivated to plan a commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the granting of the Auditoire, at Calvin’s request, to the Marian exiles as a place of worship in the autumn of 1555. The Anglican community in Basle is planning an exhibition for 2005 on similar lines to celebrate its 500 years association with the city and has already asked for help on the Marian exile period. The Poyntz and Stafford families will be featured using material from the exhibition and some of Brian Buxton’s recent research. Lady Dorothy Stafford resided for a while in Basle after Calvin finally allowed her to leave Geneva. Gabriel Poyntz was registered as a student in Basle. As I write Berne and Zurich are contemplating a similar projects.

The Report of the State Archives for the Republic and Canton of Geneva presented to the Council of State in 2003 discussed the exhibition at length, in the section on external relations, and portrayed a coloured print of the Anglican Church (Holy Trinity) in 1865 on the back cover. This is indeed real official recognition and it certainly livened up a rather dull document! Arrangements are at this moment being finalized to put Holy Trinity archives on temporary deposit in the Geneva State Archives. (The Livre des Anglois was presented to the Genevan authorities when the exiles returned to Elizabethan England in 1559. Although the English Church Community has always been given the right to transcribe and copy it, we have never had the care of it). This means that they will be in safe custody and kept in a state of good repair but they will remain the property of the church. It is undoubtedly the best solution for their long-term survival and, furthermore, they will be more readily accessible to researchers.

baptism entry

This short report has concentrated on the Marian exiles as this is clearly the overwhelming point of interest to Tyndale Society Journal readers. However, the exhibition did cover many other subjects - the development of Anglican Church music from the metrical psalters published in Geneva in Calvinistic style to the present day; charitable giving by the English Church in Geneva in the early 19th century; cricket (the church had a cricket team!) and other sports such as mountaineering (John Auldjo, sometime chairman of the Church Council, was the first Scotsman and the 7th person to climb Mont Blanc in 1827); travel and travellers – featuring Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal: The First Conducted Tour of Switzerland on loan from Thomas Cook archives in England; and, of course, the story of the building of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Geneva in 1853 which, after all, was the main purpose of the exhibition in the first place.

Extract from a page in the Livre des Anglois showing the baptism of John son of Sir William Stafford, John Calvin being the godfather 4 January 1556.

The exhibition was a success - more visitors received than ever before at an exhibition in the Geneva State Archives and more catalogues produced than the Archives have ever sold for a single exhibition. The Archives gave up after the fifth reprint and sold out completely so it is now a collector’s item. Many other lines of research, not least in the field of the Marian exiles, have been enhanced and opened up as a result of the exhibition. My only small regret is that its opening ran behind schedule and was a few days after, rather than before, the Geneva Tyndale Conference in October 2003.