Our good friend, the genealogist, Isabelle Haemmerle, sends this from Geneva:
The exhibition "Côté chaire côté rue" presented at the Archives of the State of Geneva is to be extended until March 2018. Held in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation (1517), it presents the effects of the religious activity and the spread of Protestant ideas on the daily life of Geneva. The presentation of a digitalisation project and the restoration of the archives of the Protestant Church complete this exhibition and highlight the historical work linked to the archives.
In the XVI century, the Churches and States made concerted efforts throughout Europe to systematically register births, marriages and deaths, thereby providing the embryo of what would later become the civil state. In Geneva the series of civil registers is continuous as of the time in 1550 when cupboards were integrated in the pulpits for the pastors to keep these precious books.
These registers must not be seen as merely an administrative activity. While they effectively provided knowledge of the state of the population – in Geneva they were used very early to establish statistics on plague deaths – and if private citizens had an interest as these documents allowed them to identify their legitimate heirs – their use was primarily religious. It was not individuals who were registered as so many constituents, as the believers called upon to follow a Christian path in the community of Salvation formed by the parish. In Geneva, before the last quarter of the XVI century, it was not the date of birth that the ministers entered in these registers, but that of baptism, which marked the new-borns’ entry into the community of the parish where they would thereafter be required to attend services.
The civil register, as it was seen at the time, therefore made up a sort of collective accounting and consequently it is not surprising to read other things that our contemporaries did not expect to find: the ministers were not satisfied to just enter the names of the faithful whose lives make up the warp of this accounting, but entered many other things such as important events for the parish or instructions for their successors.
To implement the exhibition, historians have studied the sources, here the Council registers, the Church archives, criminal trials, parish registers and the ancient works in the AEG library.
This display presents the Council registers and the archives of the Protestant Church of Geneva.
1- The Council registers: they form the main source for anyone interested in the history of Geneva. They comprise the registers containing the decisions, and their annexes, from the executive and legislative authorities of the Community of Citizens and Bourgeois, then City and Republic, then Republic and Canton of Geneva. Today these would be the minutes of the Council of State. This series has been preserved constantly since 1409 up to the present day, which is quite unique in Europe, with an interruption during the French period (1798-1813).
The registers from the years 1409 to 1541 have been edited, meaning that they have been transcribed, annotated and published.
2- The Church archives: In order to prepare an exhibition on Geneva at the time of the reformation, it is obviously essential to study the archives produced by the Church itself. Since 1937 these documents have been preserved in the State Archives.
On November 20th, 1541, the General Council (the assembly of citizens) adopted the Ecclesiastical Ordinances. These Ordinances organized Church life by instituting four functions or ministries: the Pastors, Doctors, Elders and Deacons. It created two new organs: the Company of Pastors and the Consistory which were to produce documents and hence archives.
The Church archives consist of two principal collections:
1. The Consistory archives (1542-1929)
The Elders formed the Consistory: it was a chamber composed of twelve pastors and twelve members of the government, presided by one of the supreme magistrates. There was a secretary who was responsible for taking the minutes of the meetings. The Elders, according to Article 37 of the Ordinances, must be divided amongst the various neighbourhoods of the city at a rate of one Elder per thousand inhabitants, “to keep an eye on everything”. The Consistory is charged with the surveillance of the behaviour of individuals, to admonish deviant practices and beliefs, to arbitrate conflicts between individuals and to obtain their amendment in cases of indiscipline. This sort of moral and matrimonial court could only pronounce ecclesiastical sentences, meaning the denial of communion. In cases requiring criminal sanctions, the guilty party was deferred to the Small Council. The Consistory met every Thursday.
The Consistory registers provided a very rich source for studying the numerous aspects of Geneva’s history. While Consistories have been introduced in all the Reformed Churches, it is rare to find a collection with registers of this scope and continuity for the entirety of the Old Regime (more than 90 registers). Numerous affairs are to be found in them concerning beliefs and religious practices, sexuality and marriage and all matters related to them: promises of marriage, fornication, adultery and divorce; but other subjects are also to be found such as drunkenness, blasphemy, usury, begging, dance and song, healers and seers, gambling, etc. It is through these minutes that little by little a certain image of popular culture may be perceived: the Genevan social fabric and the morality of the Geneva at this time.
2. The archives of the Company of Pastors (1546-1944)
The Company of Pastors comprised all the ministers in Geneva, not only those in the city but also those in the countryside. The principle competences of the Company of Pastors were the doctrine and instruction. It keeps watch on the orthodoxy of its members, regulates worship, presents future ministers and teachers to the authorities, organizes charity, controls printed materials and maintains relations with other Reformed Churches. The Company of Pastors meets on Fridays; its deliberations and decisions are consigned in writing by a secretary. The minutes of the Company of Pastors’ meetings provide study material of great diversity, that sheds light on religious history and also on the social history of Geneva, more specifically on the elaboration of ecclesiastical discipline in the new Church, the difficulties encountered in its organisation, education and exchanges with other countries. The questions debated by the Company of Pastors were of a more international character than those discussed in the Consistory; it was there that the questions posed by the Churches of France and elsewhere were discussed and where it was decided what response should be returned to them.
The Archives of the State of Geneva maintain, restore and digitalise the documents that historians use in their work.
When digitalising old series, the original documents are of course retained. The State Archives have a digitalisation workshop. The protestant Church of Geneva deposited a first part of its historical archives with AEG in 1937. These documents, the oldest dating from 1542 and much consulted, were no longer in a condition that met with the rules governing preservation and consultation.
To address the problem, ARRCC, the Association for the restoration and digitalisation of the Consistory and the Company was created in 2012 with the goal of raising the funds necessary for the preservation of the Church’s archives. In this way, through this project led by AEG, the 182 registers of the Consistory and the Company of Pastors’ minutes are in the process of being restored and have been digitalised (XVI-XIX centuries). They can be accessed on-line at Adhemar, the AEG database.
Exhibition at The Archives of the State of Geneva(AEG)
Côté chaire, côté rue. La Réforme à Genève 1517-1617 - The Reformation in Geneva 1517-1617
Extension of the exhibition to March 1 2018
AEG - rue de l'Hôtel-de-Ville 1
Tel: + 41 022 327 93 20
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