The year 2009 is historically emblematic as it celebrates the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth both in Noyon, where he was born, and throughout the world. John Calvin (1509-1564) was not only the great French reformer but also a first-rank intellectual, one of the fathers of the French language, whose works considerably influenced the history of the European nations from the 16th century on. On the occasion of this anniversary, the museums of Noyon organize several cultural events all along 2009, and notably a new exhibition about the16th and 19th centuries readers of the reformer.
Calvin and Noyon
Born on July 10th 1509 in Noyon, John Calvin was the son of Gérard Cauvin , who was the registrar to the ecclesiastical court of the cathedral of Noyon and a man devoted to the clergy, especially to Charles de Hangest, the bishop. John Calvin spent his early school years in his hometown before going to Paris to study law in 1521 or 1523. In spite of his early leaving of Noyon, Calvin always remained attached to his hometown and he kept up a regular correspondence with several of his former fellow town-dwellers, like Laurent de Normandie, the "Lieutenant Civil" of the bailiwick of Vermandois and the mayor of Noyon, who emigrated to Geneva in 1548 to flee the persecutions against the members of the Protestant Reformed Church. Just like him, many protestants from Noyon emigrated to Switzerland where Calvin welcomed them warmly, being well informed about them. He even welcomed members of his own family : his brother Antoine (the priest of Travecy) and his sister Marie.
Readers anonymous and famous
This exhibition presents - for the first time to the public- a very rich collection of copies of John Calvin's works. They come from different lenders: the museums of Noyon, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Société d’histoire du protestantisme français and the Médiathèque protestante de Strasbourg. These works have handwritten annotations which were taken down in the course of centuries. Among many copies of L'institution de la religion chrestienne (The institution of the Christian faith), one was annotated by the Duc de Sully, minister of Henry IV. It has recently been acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
A history of reading
If the texts may seem complex, like Leçons de M. Jean Calvin sur les vingt premiers chapitres du prophète Ezéchiel or Déclaration pour maintenir la vraie foy, the general intellectual and cultural frame is broader and more accessible: it is a history of the book considered from the point of view of its readers and its users, a history of the reading and the annotation. The exhibition is based on a typology which differentiates various sorts of readers or readings : the students' close reading to study the rhetorical organization of the discourse and the ideas ; the reading aimed at causing a critical reaction and a debate ; the philosophical reading which picks out the general ideas ; and the pious reading as a source of meditation and prayers.
Illustration: Jean Calvin by Cornelis Visscher, ca 1650 Musée Jean Calvin, Noyon
Catalogue, under the direction of Olivier Millet and Benjamin Findinier, 80 pages, 100 colour illustrations, published by the City of Noyon,18 €
On the occasion of the 500th anniversary, a second exhibition, Protestants of Picardy in the 16th century, will take place in Noyon, from July 10 to October 31 2009
To see more illustrations, click on VERSION FRANCAISE at the top of this page