St. Peter’s Church, the Swiss National Museum and the Helferei office building—all in Zurich—have something in common: they are all part of the religious heritage of Switzerland.
St. Peterskirche was a landmark in Swiss Reformation history, being the home of Zurich’s first appointed Protestant pastor. Christian travelers will want to visit the 16th and 17th century historical rooms of the Swiss National Museum, with their emphasis on Zurich’s reformers. And the unassuming office building at 13 Kirchgasse, the Helferei Building, belies the importance of the work that was accomplished within its walls: it’s where reformer Ulrich Zwingli studied and wrote the sermons that forever altered Zurich and Switzerland.
And they are only three of numerous places of religious significance in Switzerland, a country that offers pilgrimage groups an abundance of historically significant sites—along with natural beauty, excellent shopping, exceptional accommodations, and delectable foods like Swiss chocolate and cheese.
For a personal holiday or for group tours, such as religious associations and faith-based groups that want to discover the history of Switzerland and its religious foundations, there is much to see and do.
The cobbled streets of Zurich’s Old City were once home to many key figures in the Swiss Reformation. Sights such as the Grossmunster (Great Church), where reformer Zwingl preached, or St.Peter’s Church (featuring stained glass windows by Mark Chagall), can be discovered on an easy walking tour. Along the way, make sure to stop at some of the great coffee shops and authentic pastry stores such as Schober or Sprüngli.
In Geneva, tour groups can learn about John Calvin and his role in the Reformation. The state-of-the-art International Museum of the Reformation, located next to St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Old City, traces the Protestant Reformation that was started by Martin Luther in 1517 and heavily influenced by Calvin in Geneva. Visitors also can see a slide show of great 19th century Protestants, films about critical moments in the 20th century and a kaleidoscope of 21st century church services from around the world. The Reformation Monument, a Geneva landmark, is a sculptural depiction of Calvin and other reformers who spent time in the city. In 2017 both Zurich and Geneva will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with special observances and exhibits.
Lucerne: Monastary Beginnings
In Lucerne, just a short train ride away from Zurich, there are more Swiss highlights, such as a large transport museum, most visited museum in Switzerland; the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, Mt. Pilatus; graceful, historic steamships that ply Lake Lucerne; a vibrant downtown shopping district; and numerous lake festivals during the summer.
Lucerne is said to be the city that began as a monastery: the city traces its beginnings to the St. Leodegar Monastery, a small 8th century Benedictine cloister. Groups will also want to learn more about Brother Klaus, a spiritual counselor and peacemaker who lived close to Lucerne; he is Switzerland’s national saint and the patron of many churches.
Two other spiritual highlights in Lucerne or near there are the Abbey of Einsiedeln where the Black Madonna resides, and the Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church), built in 1666 as part of the Counter Reformation. It is said to be the most beautiful Swiss Baroque church.
St. Gallen is where spirituality and beauty come together. The city just celebrated its 1400th birthday last year and is geared to handle most groups who come to share in its rich historical treasures.
St. Gallen is located in the welcoming Lake Constance region, making it ideal for an array of excursions to Lake Constance itself, or to the Appenzellerland Mountains with the 8,200-foot-high Mount Santis as its highest peak. Hiking and biking in the region are also popular.
No trip to St. Gallen is complete without visiting the Abbey Library, where you can see the 8th century bill of sale of the abbey property, a Gospel of John from around 800 AD, handwritten and illuminated texts, liturgical works and prayer books from as early as the 8th century. The library, with as many as 160,000 priceless volumes, is a stunning combination of woodwork, undulating balconies and ceiling frescoes.
Another pilgrimage site is the signposted Anabaptist Trail that winds through the idyllic Emmental countryside and crosses a former battleground of the post-Reformation period. The trail starts at Sumiswald at the town’s Protestant church, a scene of an important 16th century religious dispute.
What makes Switzerland even more inviting is whenever and wherever you want to travel by train, bus or boat in Switzerland, you can discover the diversity of Switzerland with a single ticket. The Swiss Saver Pass offers a 15% discount off the price of the Swiss Pass when you travel with a partner or group. And young adults under 26 traveling can save even more. Bookings can be made at the Rail Europe website at www.raileurope.com or by calling their Contact Center.
With Switzerland’s majestic Alps, quaint towns and villages, numerous locations of historical religious significance, good food and friendly people, groups will find just what they’re looking for.
For more information, go to www.myswitzerland.com.
−By Don Heimburger