The year 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of one of the largest cultural/religious/informational revolutions Europe. And 500 years ago, this revolution was also facilitated through the use of a new technology—the printing press and the use of moveable type. Printing helped spread the Reformation throughout Germany and eventually to the rest of Europe. Information, now released from the control of elites, could flow freely and quickly amongst the public—writings that often challenged the Roman Catholic church and elite classes. The wide dissemination of printed literature in many languages was also instrumental in increasing literacy among the masses.
This type of printing was developed in Europe by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, and the Gutenberg Bible, completed in 1455, is considered Gutenbergs’s most important work. One hundred and eighty of his Bibles were printed (and only 49 are known to still exist…one of them right here in Geneva).
The earliest murmurings of the reformation began in Germany in 1517 with Martin Luther’s famously penned 95 Theses—a document protesting the abuses of preachers who, at the time, sold indulgences (ways to reduce punishment for sins committed). Luther wrote the letter with the enclosed list on October 31, 1517 (the date now recognized officially as Reformation Day) to his Bishop, stating his opposition to this practice. Several hundred copies of this list were printed and circulated shortly after.
By Martin Luther – http://digital.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/werkansicht/?PPN=PPN644115580&PHYSID=PHYS_0001, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47482515
The movement spread to various cities around Europe, reaching Geneva in 1525, and was adopted by the Genevans in 1535 through the preaching of Guillaume Farel. In 1536, Jean Calvin began transforming Geneva by establishing order and moral guidance in everyday life and by providing refuge for Protestants from all over Europe.
The Musée International de la Réforme currently has an exhibition called “Print, the First Pages of a Revolution” highlighting the beginning of the spread of the Reformation through the use of mass printing.
A working reproduction of the Gutenberg press is on display and visitors can operate the press—load the paper, ink the plates—and print their very own copy of a page from this iconic Bible.
This reproduction press was designed by a Swiss carpenter in Yverdon, and the typeface, called Erasmus MMXVl, was developed in Basel in 2016 to honor Erasmus, the Dutch Humanist/theologian who died in Basel in 1536.
On the day I went, they were printing pages from the Book of Ezekial. Also on display are various Bibles and texts from the 15th and 16th centuries (on loan from the Bodmer Foundation) although the Gutenberg Bible is not among them… you have to go to the Bodmer to see that…
The exhibition began in June and the press has been busy printing six pages each day and will finish the entire Bible on October 31—the last day of the exhibition, so there is still time to catch the exhibition and print your very own page.
If you like to walk and learn at the same time, the museum also offers a map entitled: Geneva: “Walk the Reformation” (downloadable from their website). The map takes you in and around the Old Town, describing historical points of interests, from the Reformation wall to the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre.
R-City Guide: Free app that allows you to pick a Swiss city then offers map, history, videos, activities and events in that city, all related to the Reformation.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/