The cathedral, dedicated to St Peter and constituting an emblematic image of Geneva, which it dominates from the hill in the Old Town, is also a symbol of the flourishing of Protestant Rome.
There is evidence that a cathedral and a set of buildings with a religious purpose have been present at this site since the 4th century CE. The structure of the site underwent gradual change until the 11th century, when it consisted of a single building, but it was in the 12th century that the first ‘prince-bishop’ of Geneva, Arducius de Faucigny, initiated the construction of the cathedral we see today, a phase that was to last almost a century, from 1150 to 1250.
As time passed, both the internal appearance and outer appearance of the cathedral were altered by wars, fires, additions and renovation work. On the outside, the most visible changes were without doubt the construction of the south tower, the addition of the Chapel of the Maccabees, the addition of the neo-classical portico, the reconstruction of the north tower and the installation of the copper spire.
Inside, the Cathedral boasts the largest collection of Romanesque and Gothic capitals in Switzerland, while the stained glass windows (identical to those from the Gothic period in the Museum of Art and History) date back to the 19th-century restoration work. The colourful decor from the Middle Ages, by contrast, was got rid of when the Reformation came along.
In August 1535, Catholic mass was abolished in Geneva and the cathedral came under the control of the Protestant movement. It became known as St Peter’s Temple - and this is still its official name today. The stripping back of the building was in line with the original spirit of Calvinism, wherein worshippers were supposed to focus on words rather than images. Following the separation of Church and State in 1907, the building became the property of the Protestant Church of Geneva. As the centuries went by, the cathedral came to be more than a place of worship. For a long time, it has been the true heart of the city. It has performed civic functions and, even today, it hosts the oath taking ceremony for the Swiss government. But above all, St Peter is a living illustration of the influence that Geneva has had on the Protestant world, as a place of refuge and as an academy where clergymen from all over Europe have received their training.