In the steps of Calvin

The Bouclier Church in Strasbourg © Jean-Marie Stocker

The Bouclier Church in Strasbourg © Jean-Marie Stocker

Jean Calvin left Geneva for Strasbourg in 1538, when Martin Bucer asked him to take charge of the small community of French-speaking Protestants; he was then 39 years old. The three years spent in this town were probabaly the happiest of his life: a happy marriage, productive activity, practical training in the pastoral ministry... He set up a liturgical model, prepared the first French psalter, a collection of psalms, and became known world-wide. In 1541 he was called back to Geneva, where he stayed for good.


Walk in Calvin's steps in Strasbourg by starting in front of the famous Cathedral. This is where the Protestant Reformation started, when Matthew Zell started preaching Luther's ideas as from 1521. The Cathedral was Protestant from 1529 to 1681, when Strasbourg became French (except for the period called Interim, 1549-61).

Then walk through the town centre, up to the former Furstenberg hotel, 10 rue des Pucelles. This used to be a fortified residence that belonged to the count Guillaume de Fürstenberg. Calvin being his lawyer, he often visited him. As a lawyer with a classic training, he studied Law, Hebrew, Greek, he also self-taught himself Theology.


Cross over the Ill river and walk along the ‘quai du Maire Dietrich’ towards the ‘Palais Universitaire’, ‘place de l'Université’. Among the full-length statues in front of the university built in 1884, Calvin is the only French-speaking person represented, next to Martin Luther, Jean Sturm, Ulrich Zwingli and Philippe Melanchthon – Luther's right-hand man and successor, who also became Calvin's friend.

You may also see a painted portrait of Calvin in the narthex of St. Paul's church (just across the road).


The next stop is the Rue Calvin, near the Protestant church St.Guillaume (given by the Catholics in 1534 for Protestant services), that took its name from the great Reformer in 1919.

Following the ‘quai des Bateliers’, then the rue Modeste Schickelé, you will arrive at the Catholic church St. Madeleine. This is where Calvin would preach, not having his own parish. Since the fire in 1904, only the gothic chancel and a few of the cloister's archways remain from the church and convent built in 1478. 


Back on the ‘quai des Bateliers’, follow the river on your right-hand side up to the church St. Nicolas. This is where Calvin preached for the first time on the 8. September 1538.

Find out more about Calvin's relationships with his contemporaries by crossing over the next bridge after the church St. Nicolas, when you'll get to the place St.Thomas. Then walk up to the number 3 rue Salzmann where Martin Bucer used to live. Martin Bucer was the head of the Reformation in Strasbourg. He invited Calvin to come in July 1538, offered him hospitality, and asked the Magistrate to appoint him pastor of the small French-speaking community of refugees, who at the time were persecuted in France.


The next stop is just a bit further on at the number 2 rue du Bouclier, in front the presbytery of the Bouclier church. This house used to accommodate many guests, whether they paid or not. Calvin first lived on his own, then with Idelette de Bure, a widow of the one of the chief Anabaptist revolutionaries, after their wedding in August 1540. This is where he worked on his classes, sermons, publications and on the second Latin edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In the same courtyard you can discover the Reformed Bouclier church. This parish has inherited the first church established by Calvin in 1538 – a typical example of Calvinist (or Reformed) churches, even if at the time this small « French church » didn't have a place of worship of its own. The present church was built after Louis XVI's « Edict of tolerance » that in 1787 authorized Protestants to come back to Strasbourg.


Carry on your tour by walking towards the place Kléber, then through the narrow street between the rue des Grandes Arcades and the place Kleber, that will bring you to the Temple-Neuf church, the former Dominicans' church. This is the third and last place where Calvin preached.


The tour ends at the place des Etudiants, just next to the Temple Neuf, and the Gymnase Jean Sturm. Jean Sturm asked Calvin to be its first Law and Theology teacher. Three times a week Calvin taught Biblical Exegesis in Latin on the book of Romans.


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