Friday, December 11, 2009


On the night of December 11-12, 1602, the winter solstice of the Julian calendar and the longest night of the year, Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, attempted a surprise attack on the city of Geneva, Switzerland. It was an effort to both acquire a prestigious capital for his domain and to wipe out the center of Calvinism in Europe. His troops began their assault on the city-state at about 2 am by climbing the city walls with ladders (escalader means 'to climb using a ladder' in French) so that with a few advance soldiers inside the fortified city, the gate could be opened from within and the Duke's 2,000 or so troops could storm the city. However, the alarm was given and l'escalade was thwarted by the combination of bells which alerted the populace and civilians fighting alongside the militia to push back the Duke's army. Eighteen Genevans were killed in the conflict compared to 54 Savoyards.

According to Genevois legend, Catherine Cheynel, originally from Lyons and the wife of Pierre Royaume, ("Mère Royaume"), a mother of 14 children, seized a large cauldron of hot soup and poured it on the attackers. The Royaume family lived just above the La Monnaie town gate. The heavy cauldron of boiling soup landed on the head of a Savoyard attacker, killing him. The commotion that this caused also helped to rouse the townsfolk to defend the city.

The Duke of Savoy was never again able to take the city. Geneva was delivered and so was the bastion of Protestantism in continental Europe. After the captured Savoyards were executed, the rejoicing of the city was great. Long-lasting peace was later achieved by the Treaty of St. Julien of July 12, 1603. The event known as L'Escalade inspired an annual celebration called Fête de l'Escalade -- not unlike Guy Fawkes Night in England (celebrated as "Pope Day" in colonial New England) -- which is still observed each year on or about December 11 and is organized by La Compagnie de 1602. In remembrance of Mère Royaume, the festivities include the selling of a hot, tasty vegetable soup in the streets of Geneva as well as a large marmite or cauldron made of chocolate filled with marzipan vegetables and candies wrapped in the Geneva colours of red and gold all of which is prepared for the eldest and youngest in the room to smash the marmite (much like a piñata), while reciting, "Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République! " ("Thus perish the enemies of the Republic!"). Adults and children often dress up in the fashion of the early 17th century, and some play historical character roles, while the festivities culminate in a procession through the streets by "hundreds of members of the 'Compagnie 1602' in full historical costume, horsemen, musketeers, crossbow marksmen, torch-bearers, a hangman and his assistant. The procession is accompanied by gun smoke, firecrackers and gun salutes. The annual procession ends in front of the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre with the proclamation of the Genevese victory." In 2005, the Meeter Center at Calvin College performed its first-ever reenactment of L'Escalade, with Karin Maag playing the role of Mère Royaume. Geneva has one of the earliest "national" anthems, composed anonymously in 1603, called Cé qu'è lainô ("The One Above"). The anthem, written originally in 1603 in Genevan Patois, is 68 stanzas long, but only stanzas one, two, four and sixty-eight are traditionally sung.

Cé qu'è lainô


Cé qu'è lainô, le Maitre dé bataille,
Que se moqué et se ri dé canaille,
A bin fai vi, pè on desande nai,
Qu'il étivé patron dé Genevoi.

I son vegnu le doze de dessanbro,
Pè onna nai asse naire que d'ancro;
Y étivé l'an mil si san et dou,
Qu'i veniron parla ou pou troi tou.

Petis et grans, ossis an sevegnance:
Pè on matin d'onna bella demanze,
Et pè on zeur qu'y fassive bin frai,
Sans le bon Di, nos étivon to prai!

Dedian sa man il y tin la victoire,
A lui solet en démure la gloire.
A to zamai son Sain Non sai begni!
Amen, amen, ainsi, ainsi soit-y!


Celui qui est en haut, le Maître des batailles,
Qui se moque et se rit des canailles
A bien fait voir, par une nuit de samedi,
Qu'il était patron des Genevois.

Ils sont venus le douze de décembre,
Par une nuit aussi noire que d'encre;
C'était l'an mil six cent et deux,
Qu'ils vinrent parler un peu trop tôt.

Petits et grands, ayez en souvenance
Par un matin d'un beau dimanche,
Et par un jour où il faisait bien froid,
Sans le bon Dieu, nous étions tous pris!

Dedans sa main il tient la victoire,
A lui seul en demeure la gloire.
A tout jamais son Saint Nom soit béni,
Amen, amen, ainsi, ainsi soit-il!


The one who is the highest, the Master of the battles,
The one who jokes and laughs about the rabbles
Has well tried to see, during one single Saturday night,
Whether he could be the ruler of the Genevans.

They came on 12th of December,
In a night as black as of ink;
It was the year 1602,
But they boasted a little bit too early.

Small and great, have in memory
This unique beautiful Sunday morning,
And this bright, cold day,
Without Good God, we all would have been taken!

In His hands He holds victory,
Only at Him remains glory about it.
Above all His Holy Name is blessed,
Amen, Amen, thus, thus is it!


  1. Now that is a holiday I could definitely celebrate -- soup and chocolate and marzipan, and the brave housewife who was so quick witted as to use dinner to defend her family! God does do things in wondrous ways.

  2. Truly God's providence in action. Ephesians 1:11 He does work all things after the counsel of His own will.