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Discover St. Pierre Cathedral, enjoy great panoramic views of Geneva from the tower, see where John Calvin preached, and explore the archaeological sites beneath this centuries-old building. Geneva’s principal church, St. Peter’s Cathedral (English), or Saint Pierre Basilica (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre in French), dates back over 860 years. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of Geneva’s most visited buildings and also the home church of John Calvin.
St. Pierre Cathedral is a must-see in Geneva, and it’s easily accessible since it’s in the heart of the old town.
The little hill in Geneva’s Old Town where the Cathedral stands can be reached by walking up several cobbled streets.
St. Pierre Cathedral and the Protestant Reformation
St. Pierre Cathedral was built over a 70-year period from 1160 to 1230. While it was built as a Roman Catholic church in the 12th century, St. Pierre Cathedral has been transformed into a reformed church. John Calvin, the French reformer, preached at this Cathedral until he died in 1564.
Protestant Reformation came to Geneva in the 16th century. During this time, the Calvinists stripped St. Pierre Cathedral of its statues, altar, furniture, and paintings, leaving only its stained-glass windows and a chair. So the ascetic interior of the church was magnificent but practically empty.
Protestant Reformation principles differ a lot from other faiths. Protestants believe that only God is holy, not the Church, the clergy, or the saints. Additionally, they believe grace and indulgences should not be sold or bought since God’s grace is free. In addition to ethics, the Protestant Reformation emphasizes being good, loving others, and living responsibly.
One of the cradles of Protestantism is St. Pierre Cathedral. Geneva has been shaped by these Protestant Reformation principles. Over the years, we’ve seen it grow to be the home of the United Nations and Red Cross.
Across the street from St. Pierre Cathedral lies the International Museum of the Reformation, an 18th-century mansion that tells the story of the Reformation movement in Geneva.
St. Pierre Cathedral: Architectural Style
There’s a mix of architectural styles in St. Pierre Cathedral. From the 11th century until the 18th century, St. Pierre Cathedral was built and reconstructed many times, resulting in a variety of styles. As essentially a 12th-13th century Cathedral, it saw the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architectural styles.
It looks like a Roman Temple from the outside, especially with the ruins below. Originally, it was a Catholic Cathedral, but that changed.
The glass windows in the Cathedral are copies. The originals from the 15th century are located in Musée d’art et d’histoire.
Inside, it looks quite Gothic and Protestant. With its bare walls and ceilings, St. Pierre Cathedral is so different from its Catholic counterparts.
St. Pierre Cathedral Tower
The St. Pierre Cathedral has panoramic views of Geneva from its tower. If you want to climb up the tower, you’ll have to pay extra. You can pay for your entrance ticket inside the Cathedral. We paid 7 CHF to access the tower.
There are some incredibly narrow stairs inside the tower that can only fit one person. A green light means you’re free to go up or down the stairs, and a red light means you have to wait. It’s best to wait until the green light says it’s okay to go, since two people can barely fit.
The climb up the tower might get tiring as it’s really a long, winding staircase with 157 steps. You can take young kids, but you might get complaints if they’re not used to it.
Both the North and South Towers contain church bells in varying diameters and tones. The first church bell was made by Louis Simon in 17491.
Chapel of Maccabees in St. Pierre Cathedral
Don’t forget to check out the Chapel of Maccabees before you leave. Also known as the Notre-Dame collegial chapel, it’s the most beautiful part of St. Pierre Cathedral and is right beside the exit. This chapel was built between 1400 and 1405 for Jean de Rogny.
With Gothic murals and tombstones, this chapel in the southwest wing of St. Pierre Cathedral is lavishly decorated. Unlike the rest of the Cathedral, it’s a little more elaborate. This chapel has a chancel vault that reflects the original frescoes of the church, stained glass, high ceilings, and colorful arches. Near the cardinal’s tomb is an old Walcker organ.
An Archeological Site can also be found below the Cathedral near the Chapel of Maccabees.
How to Get to St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva
To get to St. Pierre Cathedral, you can take the following buses or trams:
|Address||Cr de Saint-Pierre, 1204 Genève|
|By Bus||Genève, Cathédrale|
|By Tram||Genève, Molard|
Final Thoughts: St. Pierre Cathedral, Geneva
Despite not being as famous as Notre Dame de Paris or Westminster Abbey, St. Pierre Cathedral is a great place to visit. Being the church where John Calvin preached, the cathedral has a special place in our history.
Visitors flock to St. Pierre Cathedral every year. You can go to the cathedral for free. A small fee is required to climb the bell tower.
You can visit St. Pierre Cathedral from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM (October to May) or 9:30 AM to 6:30 PM (June to September). Every Sunday, it opens at 12:00 PM. The towers are open until 5:00 PM (October to May) or 6:00 PM (June to September).
If you would like to find more activities to do in Geneva, you can also check out GetYourGuide.com.
- Demolis, Philippe. Das Glockenspiel der Kathedrale Saint-Pierre in Genf. Campanae Helveticae. Band 19, 2015.
- Dorling Kindersley Verlag GmbH. Cathedrale St. Pierre. Schweiz. 2011/2012.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.