The Ordinances for the Churches in the Genevan Territory

The good old days for sure!

Ordinances for the Supervision of Churches in the Country February 3, 1547

Ordinances for the Supervision of the Churches dependent on the Seigneury of Geneva, which it is advised be put in force, subject to the complete discretion of their Lordships


1. Everyone in each house is to come on Sundays, unless it be necessary to leave someone behind to take care of children or animals, under penalty of 3 sous.
2. If there be preaching any weekday, arranged with due notice, those that are able to go and have no legitimate excuse are to attend, at least one from each house, under penalty as above.
3. Those who have man or maid servants, are to bring them or have them conveyed when possible, so that they do not live like cattle without instruction.
4. Everyone is to be present at Sermon when the prayer is begun, under penalty as above, unless he absent himself for legitimate reason.
5. Everyone is to pay attention during Sermon, and there is to be no disorder or scandal.
6. No one is to leave or go out from the church until the prayer be made at the end of Sermon, under penalty as above, unless he have legitimate cause.


1. Because each preacher has two parishes, Catechism is to take place each fortnight. Those who have children are to bring them, with the rest of their household who have not been to Sermon, as above.
2. The same attention, honest and regular, is to be given to Catechism as has been said for Sermon.


1. Those who fail in their duty of coming are to be admonished by the Guardians, both themselves and their family.
2. If after intimation they continue to default, they are to be fined three groats, for each time. Of this one third will be applied to the Guardians; the other two thirds will be applied to the poor of the parish, and put into the funds of the Church for distribution according to need as it becomes known.
3. If anyone come after Sermon has begun, he is to be admonished, and if after this is done he does not amend, for each fault he is to be fined three sous, which will be applied as above.
4. If during Sermon anyone make any disturbance or scandal, he is to be reported to the Consistory to be cautioned, in order that procedure be in proportion to the fault; that is, if by carelessness he is to be well told off, if it happen by intended malice or rebelliousness he is to be reported to their Lordships to be punished appropriately.


1. The local lord, in conjunction with the Ministers and the Guardians, is to oblige the delinquents to pay the fines they have incurred, when they will not pay of their own free will. Legitimate excuses are to be admitted, but this is to be done without any formal procedure.
2. If there be any so rebellious that, despite the above fines, they do not at all amend, they are to be reported to the Consistory with advice to the effect that their Lordships punish them according to the seriousness of their obstinacy.
3. Fathers are to be responsible for their children, and, if there be a penalty, it is to be exacted from them.


1. Baptism is to be administered any day, provided that there be Sermon along with it. The Ministers are always to exhort the people to link it up with the Catechism.
2. Children are to be brought at the beginning of Catechism or Sermon.
3. Fathers are to be present, unless they have legitimate excuse of which cognizance will be taken by the Consistory.
4. No godfather is to be admitted for presenting a child, unless he is of an age to make such a promise; that is, he must have passed fifteen years, be of the same confession as ourselves, and be duly instructed.
5. As to names, let their Lordships’ ordinances be careful both to avoid all superstition and idolatry and to remove from the Church of God everything foolish and indecent.
6. If midwives usurp the office of Baptism, they are to be reproved or chastised according to the measure of fault found, since no commission is given them in this matter, under penalty of being put on bread and water for three days and fined ten sous; and all who consent to their action or conceal it will be liable to the same penalty.


1. No one is to be received at the Supper unless he first have made confession of his faith. That is to say, he must declare before the Minister that he desires to live according to the reformation of the gospel, and that he knows the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the Commandments of God.
2. Those who wish to receive the Supper are to come at the beginning of the Service; those who come at the end are not to be received.
3. Other impediments are to be within the cognizance of the Consistory, to deal with them, in accordance with what has been ordained.
4. All are to remain until the end, unless there be a legitimate excuse which is recognized as above.


Buildings are to remain shut for the rest of the time, in order that no one outside the hours may enter for superstitious reasons. If anyone be found making any particular devotion inside or nearby, he is to be admonished: if it appear to be a superstition which he will not amend, he is to be chastised.


First, Superstitions

1. Those found to have any paternosters or idols for adoration are to be brought before the Consistory, and, besides the punishment imposed on them there, they are to be brought before their Lordships.
2. Those who have been on pilgrimages or voyages the same.
3. Those who observe the papistical feasts or fastings are to be admonished only, unless they are obstinate in their rebellion.
4. Those who have attended mass, besides admonition, are to be brought before their Lordships.
5. In such cases, their Lordships will have the right of chastising by means of prison or otherwise, or of punishing by extraordinary fines, at their discretion.
In the case of fines, they are to apply some small portion of them to the Guardians, if the delict was notified by them.


1. Those who have blasphemed, swearing by the body or by the blood of our Lord, or suchlike, ought to do reverence1 for the first time; for the second a penalty of five sous; for the third ten sous; and for the last time put in the pillory for an hour.
2. Anyone who abjures or renounces God or his Baptism is for the first time to be put for ten days on bread and water; for the second and third time he is to be punished with some more rigorous corporal punishment, at the discretion of their Lordships.

Contradiction of the Word

1. If there are any who contradict the Word of God, let them be brought before the Consistory to be admonished, or be remanded to their Lordships to receive chastisement according to the needs of the case.
2. If the contradiction or rebellion amount to scandal which demands prompter remedy, the local lord is to take a hand in the matter for the maintenance of the honour of the Ministry and the Magistracy.


1. There is to be no treating of one another to drinks, under penalty of three sous.
2. The taverns are to be closed during Service, under penalty that the taverner pay three sous and anyone entering them the same.
3. If anyone be found drunk, he is to pay for the first time three sous and be brought before the Consistory; the second time he must pay the sum of five sous; and the third ten sous and be put in prison.
4. There are to be no carousals, under penalty of ten sous.

Songs and Dances

If anyone sing songs that are unworthy, dissolute or outrageous, or spin wildly round in the dance, or the like, he is to be imprisoned for three days, and then sent on to the Consistory.


No one is to lend at interest or for profit greater than five per cent, on pain of confiscation of the capital sum and of being required to make appropriate amends according to the needs of the case.


1. No one is to cause noise or dispute on pain of being punished according to the needs of the case.
2. If there be any who causes sedition or assembling to make or support quarrels, he is to be punished with more rigorous penalties according to what he merits.


If there be a complaint or dispute between two people, the Minister, summoning the Guardians, will do his duty to bring them to accord; and if he is unable to prevail, he will remand them to the Consistory.


No one is to play at games that are dissolute, or at games played for gold or silver or at excessive expense, on pain of five sous and loss of the sum staked.


1. As to those who are caught in fornication, if it be an unmarried man with an unmarried woman, they are to be imprisoned for six days on bread and water, and pay sixty sous amends.
2. If it be adultery, one or the other being married, they are to be imprisoned for nine days on bread and water, and pay amends at the discretion of their Lordships, as the crime is much more grave.
3. Those who are promised in marriage are not to cohabit as man and wife until the marriage be celebrated in church, otherwise they will be punished as for fornication.


The local lord assembling the more responsible and better part of the parishioners, and duly advising them, election of Guardians is to take place before them. They are to be men of substance and fearing God. He then brings the said Guardians to the Consistory, to be instructed in their office, and from there they will be brought before their Lordships to take the oath.


The decision of the Minister and the Guardians or of one of them, the local lord, or in his absence one of the assistants, may remand delinquents to the Consistory.

On May 16, 1547, the above Ordinances were read, and then approved and accepted; and it is further declared that the penalties for offences are to be applied in part to the Guardians of the parishes, in part to the local lord and the municipal council, and in part to the poor of the parish and district.

By command of their Lordships,
the Syndics and Council of Geneva.

One thought on “The Ordinances for the Churches in the Genevan Territory

  1. Hey what you’re in for???
    Well, I attended mass, and you?
    Man I couldn’t resist my joy with the truths revealed in the sermon and danced in church! Can I borrow your toilet paper?

    I wonder how many of these dialogues actually took place in Geneva’s prisons!


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