The most beautiful Gothic church in Switzerland, Lausanne Cathedral(Cathédrale Notre-Dame) stands 500 ft. above Lake Geneva in the chic hillside city of Lausanne.
History of Lausanne Cathedral
Construction on the cathedral began in 1175 and it was consecrated in 1275 by Pope Gregory X. It was completed in, well, never - it still remains unfinished today.
Throughout the Middle Ages, pilgrims flocked to the cathedral to pray before the Golden Virgin, a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary (to whom the cathedral is dedicated).
Lausanne was one of many medieval cities to institute a nightwatch to prevent the all-too-common threat of devastating fires. Although it is mostly stone stone, the city was once made mostly of wood and burned down several times. Every night, watchmen stationed on the wall surrounding the town would call out to each other, ensuring that there were no fires and that no enemy was approaching.
The cathedral nightwatch was the most important. Every night, the watchman walks up the 153 stairs to the top of the tower. Every hour on the hour from 10pm to 2am, he calls out to the four directions: C'est le guet; il a sonné l'heure ("This is the nightwatch; the hour has struck"). Lausanne is the only city in Europe to continue this tradition to this day. Nowadays, the reassuring sound of the nightwatchman's voice startles lovers on park benches and drunken students stumbling home.
In 1536, the combined forces of the Reformation and Bernese army stripped Lausanne Cathedral of virtually all its decoration, including altars, statues and paintings. The beloved Golden Virgin was melted down to make coins. Its treasury, a unique collection of liturgical vestments and tapestries, was taken over to Bern, where it is now preserved in a museum.
The architect-restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc began a restoration of the cathedral in the 19th century - and it is still going on today.
What to See at Lausanne Cathedral
See our Lausanne Cathedral Photo Gallery for a virtual tour.
Lausanne Cathedral is generally considered Switzerland's finest Gothic building, on par with French Gothic architecture. It is topped with towers and spires; the south facade is pierced by a giant Gothic rose window; and flying buttresses support the choir.
The portals and facade of the cathedral are richly ornamented with carved sculptures and bas-reliefs. Entrance is through the west portal, called the Montfalcon Portal after a 16th-century bishop. The monumental doorway is decorated with sculptures of biblical figures, saints, bishops and various creatures.
Inside, visitors first pass through the Great Porch, a tall, open arcade that recalls similar features in English cathedrals like Lincoln and Canterbury. It may be no accident: the cathedral's main architect, Jean de Cotereel, is suspected of having been part English. There are frescoes on the vaults and a few large sculptures preserved in the porch.
Next is the broad Great Bay, which was once (until it was enclosed in 1504) a vaulted outdoor alleyway connecting the Rue Cite-Devant with the Rue St-Etienne.
The interior is Gothic at its most elegant and beautiful. It is mostly bare of decorations because of the Reformation, but there are some notable exceptions of medieval art surviving here and there. One example is the south portal, known as the Painted Portal (1215-30). The statues on its exterior are medieval originals.
The glorious South Rose Window also survived from the 13th century; only the central piece is not original. The rose was a popular medieval representation of the universe and Lausanne's huge rose contains images representing the four seasons, four elements, four winds, four rivers of paradise, and the twelve labors of the months and signs of the zodiac.
In the south transept, there is still some faded medieval paint adorning the pillars. The choir is elevated above the nave and contains a simple stone altar, beautiful 13th-century choir stalls, and the tomb of Otto of Grandson, a celebrated medieval knight.
More old tombs are in the atmospheric ambulatory that runs around the choir and in the crypt beneath the choir. You can climb the 225 steps to the observation deck of one of the towers for fine views of the city and Lake Geneva.
Quick Facts on Lausanne Cathedral
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||46.522560° N, 6.635249° E|
|Address:||Place de la Cathédrale|
|Hours:||Apr-Sep: Mon-Fri 8am-6:30pm, Sat 8:30am-6pm, Sun 2-7pm|
Oct-Mar: Mon-Fri 7:30am-6pm, Sat 8:30am-5pm, Sun 2-5:30pm
Not open to visitors during services
|Lodging:||View hotels near Lausanne Cathedral|
- Personal visit (December 23, 2006).
- The Rough Guide to Switzerland
- Frommer's Switzerland
- The Cathedral of Lausanne - AskOxford
Map of Lausanne Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Lausanne Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.