How printing shaped the Reformation in Zurich

Exactly 500 years ago, Huldrych Zwingli began preaching the Gospel at the Grossmünster church, marking the start of the Reformation in Zurich. Working together with Zurich printer Christoph Froschauer, he was able to extend his role as a leader of the Reformation across borders into other countries. The new exhibition, “Getruckt zu Zürich – Buchdruck und Reformation” (Printed to Zurich – printing and the Reformation) at Central Library Zurich highlights the significant role played by printing in the Zwinglian Reformation, with a range of rare pieces on display.

With the Zwinglian Reformation in the 16th century, Zurich made world history. This event took on a global significance unlike any other occurring before or since in the city on the Limmat. In his twelve short years as people’s priest at the Grossmünster, Zwingli (1484–1531) set off a radical shift of values both in the church and society. An essential key to his success was his work with Zurich printer and Reformation supporter, Christoph Froschauer (1490–1564).

Froschauer Bible or Zurich Bible, 1531. Central Library Zurich, Zwingli 304.

Pamphlets – the fliers of the Reformation

Martin Seger and Hans Füssli: description of the “Godly Mill”, Zurich: Froschauer, 1521. Instead of the traditional Eucharistic mill, the wood engraving depicts an allergory of the Gospel spreading. Zwingli 106: a.1.

The new exhibition focuses on the media used to spread reformatory ideas. A new type of media, the pamphlet, enabled Zwingli to spread his theological ideas quickly and across borders into other countries. The Reformation was good business for Froschauer, too. With 800 printers, he was one of the big names in the German speaking region. The partnership between the men culminated in the printing of the Froschauer Bible, or Zurich Bible, in 1531. Visitors can see this special gem from the Reformation in Zurich, which was the first Bible to combine all of the Old and New Testaments in one book, displayed in the exhibition.

Remarkable exhibits, a film and a quiz

The exhibition gives an impression of the range of works published by Froschauer’s print shop, the use of iconography to represent theological ideas, and the emerging censorship. Some of the exhibits are entirely unique and rarely displayed, such as the world’s only portrait of Froschauer, which was painted in 1556 and is now privately owned, the Einsiedeln code used by Zwingli, and the colorized Reformation Chronicle by Heinrich Bullinger from Central Library Zurich’s special collections. Sequences from the Swiss short film “Zwinglis Erbe” (Zwingli’s legacy) by Alex Fröhlich really make the Reformation history come alive. Visitors can test their Reformation knowledge in the exhibition’s own quiz.

The wood engraving in Johannes Stumpf’s Swiss Chronicle depicts Froschauer’s print shop with Heinrich Vogtherr Sr. in the foreground (left) and possibly Christoph Froschauer with a beard in the background. Central Library Zurich, AW 40: 1.

Description of the First Zurich Disputation (January 29, 1523) with a colorized pen drawing in a copy of Heinrich Bullinger’s “History of the Reformation”, 1605. Central Library Zurich, Ms B 316.

An accompanying book will also be distributed at the exhibition in collaboration with the journal “Zwingliana”. The volume comprises nine articles on the topic “Printing and Reformation in Switzerland”.

The exhibition will be open for visitors until April 30, 2019 at Central Library Zurich.

More information is available on Central Library Zurich’s website

You can learn more about Zurich’s history and its coins in CoinsWeekly.

In 2017, the “500 Jahre Züricher Reformation” association (500th anniversary of the Reformation in Zurich) launched a long-term festival, complete with exhibitions, art projects, round table discussions, and city tours. The 2019 program is available online.