After 500 years, there was a Mass in John Calvin's church in Geneva


Central Europe


Father Pascal Desthieux, who celebrated the first Catholic Mass in 500 years, poses in front of the St Pierre's cathedral, a bastion of Swiss Reformation, on February 19, 2020. Photo AFP, Fabrice Coffrini

In Geneva’s Saint-Pierre Cathedral, where John Calvin preached the Reformation in the sixteenth century, a Roman Catholic Mass has been held for the first time in nearly five centuries.

According to Swiss daily Le Temps, around 1500 people attended mass at the church on Saturday night. More people were interested, but there was not enough room to admit everyone.

In the summer of 1535, the last mass at Saint-Pierre had ended in a riot, the clergy had been driven out, and the building delivered to the depredations against the statues and objects of worship, symbols of “idolatry”. Geneva then invited the Frenchman Calvin to preach and develop his theology there.

“The parish council is aware of creating an event with a very strong symbolism”, declared lay leader of the cathedral parish council Daniel Pilly. “A Mass after 486 years is a significant gesture. We are happy to be able to take this step”, he noted, recalling “the fruitful ecumenical collaboration” between the two churches and “the mutual trust”.


Roman Catholics and Protestants praised “the harmony of the past enemies in the faith,” though differences remain. “The Gospel brings people together, but we keep our identity,” said Pilly. This reports the Catholic weekly The Tablet. “Your cathedral is the mother church of our canton,” added Father Pascal Desthieux, Episcopal Vicar of Geneva. “But that doesn’t mean we’re merging.”

The ceremony in the Swiss church, which has been Protestant since 1535, was scheduled for 2020 but was postponed several times due to the corona pandemic.


The date chosen for this mass is that of the beginning of Lent, a period of penance. The rite of ashes marked the ceremony. Pastor Emmanuel Rolland imposed the ashes on the forehead of Father Pascal Desthieux; then, the latter did the same to the first. The ministers moved throughout the cathedral to allow the faithful to participate in this rite of humility.

It was the same during communion when African choirs performed. While some marked the rhythm of the music, others prayed on their knees. The ceremony, which was also marked by a prayer for peace in Ukraine, lasted nearly two hours and was warmly applauded. The faithful left the premises after receiving the blessing.



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