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Ulrich Zwingli at Eye Level

“I ask Christ for this one thing only, that he will enable me to endure all things courageously, and that he break me as a potter’s vessel or make me strong, as it pleases him.” Ulrich Zwingli

For the 500th anniversary of Swiss reformation leader, Huldrych (Ulrich) Zwingli, fifteen plastic statues of him were cast from the model of the bronze original found on the Wasserkirche (Water Church). One of these statues was included at a festival parade in Zürich and twelve of them were installed in each of the twelve districts of the city. Both the main train station and the airport each had a statue on display as well. Ten of these Zwingli figures were later moved to the Limmatquai to stand under the shadow of the Grossmünster Church overlooking the river. According to Christoph Sigrist, pastor of Grossmünster, the goal of the celebration is to bring Zwingli to the people, at eye level, thereby inviting dialogue and spreading the reach of the Church beyond its walls.

The eco-Zwingli in mirrored robe was dressed by the Grossmünster youth group. It is surrounded by plastic trash. The underlying tone here is for us to think about “our own responsibility for climate change”. The red hot costumed Zwingli with silver spoons, forks and a wooden pizza peel is the most eye catching of the lot. The grey-robed reformer with a virtual reality headset and books at his feet certainly reaches out to today’s youth and the future of education. There were captions beside the statues but alas, I don’t understand the German language so the captions were lost on me. But it’s not difficult to interpret the meaning of these figures.

Zwingli’s role in the Protestant reformation movement has been overshadowed by Luther and Calvin. But his influence in the German speaking regions of Switzerland cannot be ignored. Some religious historians attribute the discipline and affluence of the Swiss to the strict work ethic instituted by Zwingli in the 16th century. His liturgical reforms include the abolition of clerical celibacy, the celebration of the mass and Lenten fasting. (Zwingli was secretly living with Anna Reinhard before the Zurich City Council approved his First Disputations which was submitted in 1523 and which allowed clerical marriage. He married her the following year.) Zwingli also advocated the removal of relics and images of Jesus, Mary and the saints from churches and implemented the teachings of the Bible. 
Luther and Zwingli strongly disagreed with the idea of transubstantiation of bread and wine at Communion. Luther believed in the literal presence of Christ in these elements while Zwingli interpreted them as merely symbolic. These two opposing views divided the German and Swiss reformation movements and the effort for reconciliation at the Colloquy of Marburg in 1529 only deepened the wedge between the two leaders. Zwingli died two years later at the Second War of Kappel when he accompanied Zürcher soldiers as their chaplain.

The Zwingli figure in a doctor’s robe with a red cross on his collar seems to connect him with the Red Cross which was founded in Geneva, Switzerland. The nude-robed Zwingli statue with a bird perched on his shoulder is associating the 16th century reformer with St. Francis of Assisi who was also a reformer of his time and the patron saint of animals. 

The statues of Zwingli were installed above the Limmat River. (Photos were taken in November 2019.)

The Zwingli figures have since been removed and were auctioned off to raise money for social causes. 

“We pastors must have the courage to step down from our pulpits if it is to be true what we preached for a Reformation anniversary: that the Church must renew itself.” Christoph Sigrist from an interview by Felix Reich, June 26, 2019, reformiert.info. 

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Images by TravelswithCharie



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