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International Museum of the Reformation in Geneva - A Guest Post



Our good friend, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, sends this from Geneva:

The first Sunday of October, the last warm day enjoyable for strolling along Lake Leman. Taking the direction the old town – la Vieille Ville – while climbing the hill, we gradually walk back to the past though a maze of narrow, cobble-stoned streets in the heart of international Geneva, a city right in the center of old Europe.

Our steps take us to the Musée international de la Réforme (MIR) created in 2005 in the famous Villa Mallet built in the 18th century on the remains of the cloister where the city-republic of Geneva adopted the Reformation in 1536. The MIR is part of the Espace St Pierre which also includes the cathedral and the archaeological site. It presents the history of the Reformation up to nowadays and describes the role of Martin Luther, Jean Calvin and other Reformers through classic or high tech resources.

In the magnificent room number 4, the Salon, we comfortably watched a 15-minute multimedia show about the main aspects of the Reformation and then attended the "virtual banquet" -- where the question  of predestination was discussed -- in room number 8, the Dining Room, before enjoying some samples of Huguenot psalms in the Music Room.

During the period 1541-1590, a first wave of Protestant refugees who were persecuted in Catholic France found in Geneva a shelter and within ten years the population doubled to 5000 refugees. Among them came many talented craftsmen – printers, clock-makers goldsmiths and textile industrialists who introduced their skills, allowing the town to flourish and become a famed cultural and economic center. Some prominent French refugees were awarded the townsman's rights. By the end of the 16th century, the French Protestants were called the Huguenots in relation to the German word Eidgenosse, meaning Confederates as in "a citizen of one of the states of the Swiss Confederacy".

The second wave of mass exodus took place upon the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 when the flow of refugees running away from France through Switzerland came to the incredible figure of about 140,000 between 1680 and 1770. Up to 350 people per day entered Geneva in the year 1687. Most of them were from the Dauphiné, Cévennes and Languedoc regions of southern France. But the City of Calvin, surrounded by the possessions of the King of France and the Duke de Savoie would not offer a safe haven for long. Louis XIV obliged Geneva to limit the number of refugees and few were given citizenship as the number of emigrants was huge.

So the Huguenots would move to host countries known as the countries of « Refuge » : other Swiss cantons, United Provinces (Holland), Denmark and Germany. Some (and this is where you, my dear readers, will see light after my tedious history class)  will go further away to the United States or South Africa. An organisation supported the refugees in Geneva and the Vaud region by gathering funds for assistance or aid. You will be pleased to learn that it is possible to consult the Registres d'assistance (Aid Register) for Geneva on the website of the Refuge Huguenot Database :

  • assistance in Geneva in 1684
  • assistance in Geneva in 1685
  • assistance in Geneva in 1686
  • assistance in Geneva in 1687-1688

Should you be able to visit Geneva and the MIR, you can add to your agenda with a walk in your Protestant refugee ancestors' footsteps : on October 11, the association  In the steps of the Huguenots  will inaugurate the 78 km second stage of the Sentier des Huguenots along the Jura, from Romainmôtier to Yverdon. The final route will take you from Geneva to Schaffhouse.

For further reading, we suggest:

  • La Suisse et le Refuge, accueil et passage. La Table Ronde, Marseille, 1985
  • Fatio, Olivier, editor. Genève au temps de la révocation de l’édit de Nantes (1680-1705). Champion, Paris, 1985
  • Ducommun,  Marie-Jeanne and Dominique Quadroni. Le refuge protestant dans le Pays de Vaud (Fin XVIIe - début XVIIIe). Aspects d'une migration.


Musée International de la Réforme (MIR)

4, rue du Cloître (cour Saint-Pierre), 

Open Tuesday to Sunday
   from 10am to 5pm

Tél. 022 310 24 31


Thank you, Isabelle!

Those who wish to contact Isabelle to know more about genealogy in Geneva may do so by writing to her at: genhaemm (AT) gmail (DOT) com