Geneva exhibition highlights Reformation, printing, showing Luther's bestseller author role

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Sign on a window at the International Museum of the Reformation (MIR) in Geneva, Switzerland on May 31, 2017.

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation was not just the time when Martin Luther rebelled against his Church, penning 95 theses or protests against corruption such as the sale of indulgences to the faithful in exchange for their salvation.

The era also saw the first of the printing revolution which helped fuel the Reformation.

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of this movement, the International Museum of the Reformation (MIR) in Geneva is taking a closer look at a technology that both transformed Christianity and profoundly changed attitudes.

It is titled, "Print! The first pages of a revolution - An interactive exhibition," that is running at the Geneva museum next to the cathedral of St. Pierre from June 4 to Oct. 31.

Over 130 days, from June 4 Oct. 31, an entire Bible will be hand-printed using period techniques, on a replica of a Gutenberg press built especially for the exhibition and placed inside a spectacular glass cube.

There will also be a series of events and discussion relating to the Reformation, the even the had such an impact on peace and conflict in Europe.

"The Gutenberg Revolution was as influential in its time as the invention of the Internet is today. Without printing, the Reformation would probably not have spread so widely or so fast. The movement initiated by Luther and his contemporaries has been described as the first media campaign in history," says the MIR.

"The radical transformations that took place of the 16th century are in many ways similar to those we observe today, with the digital revolution," says museum director and curator, Gabriel de Montmollin. "Understanding what happened back then may help us better understand what we are experiencing today."

"When addressing the printing revolution, the fact that the Reformation was first and foremost a 'confession of the book' presents another challenge."


Luther was from the eastern German town of Wittenberg, but was a best-selling author of his day and he saw printing "as the greatest and most extraordinary act of Divine Grace." Some 300,000 copies of his works were in circulation between 1517 and 1520, and around 3,700 editions were published in the 30 final years of his life.

The printing press did not only leave its mark on the Reformation, but many other cultural movements or currents of thought took advantage of it as well, radically transforming humanity's relationship to education, science, literature and religion.

"Thanks to the multiplier effect of printing – a technology that in 1517 had been around for less than a century – Luther was able to rally followers throughout Germany and Europe and respond to their questions through a continuous flow of revolutionary writings," said

"The Gutenberg Press was to Martin Luther what the Internet is to Julian Assange!" said de Montmollin referring to the founder of WikiLeaks who is in hiding at the Ecuador Embassy in London.

De Montmollin explained that the influence of printing was not limited to Protestantism.

"In literature, science and philosophy, too, the Gutenberg revolution brought ideas that were once the preserve of elites to a much wider audience. This is clearly explained in a section we decided to call 'The Gutenberg Galaxy' in tribute to Marshall McLuhan, where we present 17 best-sellers from the 16th century."

He said these include "several priceless first editions" generously loaned to the museum by the Bodmer Foundation and the Geneva Library.

The museum has invited four contemporary artists to illustrate the hand-printed Bible.

"In Luther's time, Bibles were often illustrated by famous artists following an imposed model. Those constraints no longer exist, and we look forward to seeing how these artists will freely reflect the complexity of the Bible today."

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)International Museum of the Reformation (MIR) director and curator Gabriel de Montmollin on May 31, 2017.
Copyright © 2017 Ecumenical News