Top European prize goes to Reformation museum

By Ecumenical News International
April 20, 2007

Geneva's International Museum of the Reformation, housed on the spot where the city's citizens voted to adopt the Protestant Reformation in 1536, has been awarded the Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2007 - writes ENI's Stephen Brown.

Museum director Isabelle Graesslé received the prize - a bronze statuette by Catalan artist Joan Miro, a diploma and a cheque for 5000 euros. The president of the council's parliamentary assembly, Rene van der Linden, made the presentation at a ceremony in Strasbourg on 17 April 2007.

The jury praised the museum's international outlook and demonstration of religious tolerance, and described as "especially daring" its effort to present theological ideas using an interactive display.

The museum was inaugurated in 2005 and uses original books, manuscripts, paintings, and engravings to trace the history of the Protestant movement initiated in the city by French theologian Jean Calvin in the 16th century and which has since become one of the main families of Christianity.

It is now planning a special exhibition in 2009 to mark the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, a commemoration also to be celebrated by the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a grouping of 216 churches with roots in Calvin's Reformation. The alliance has brought together 50 representatives of Reformed churches for a 15-19 April meeting in Geneva to plan for the Calvin Jubilee worldwide.

The Reformation museum also aims to encourage dialogue between different faiths and Christian traditions. "If the museum can contribute to this process, it will have succeeded in one of its missions," said Graesslé.

In the museum, alongside the artefacts of a bygone age, are state-of-the-art interactive and audio-visual displays explaining the turbulent history and ideas of Protestantism up to the present.

"People might expect such a museum to be deadly serious, demanding and dogmatic," noted one judge, Mikhail Gnedovsky from Russia. "But this is far from being the case. In fact, the atmosphere of the museum is very relaxed and free," he said, noting touches such as cartoons of Calvinists and a picture of Calvin on a vending machine in the Geneva museum café.

The Council of Europe is an inter-governmental body for 46 European nations. Its Museum prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to a museum judged to have contributed to the understanding of European cultural heritage.

Recent winners include the Churchill Museum in London (2006), the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki, Greece (2005) and the Museum of Health Care in Edirne, Turkey (2004).

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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