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Cathedrals 7:
la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Lausanne

Maquette of the South Rose window at Lausanne Cathedral

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cathedral dimensions
stained glass
the organ
to see in the cathedral
opening times and entrance charges
 background facts 

1953 postcard of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, Lausanne
1953 postcard of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame, Lausanne
[Note, wavy lines are postal franking marks]

When its construction was started in 1170, the building that became the Cathedral Notre Dame de Lausanne was an alien apparition, like a meteorite fallen from the sky. At that time, outside the “native” Gothic zone of Ile-de-France and Picardy in France, and Anglo-Norman England, there was no similar building.

related page:
Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis

Thus, the clerestory of Lausanne cathedral has clear similarities to the choir at Canterbury, both following French Gothic design. The style of cathedral is forDetail of sculture at Lausanne Cathedral. Image: EPFLTV the most part described as “primitive Burgundian Gothic”. Regarded as the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Switzerland, this building has arguably one of the most impressive rose windows in the world.

During the Middle Ages, the cathedral was a place of pilgrimage , with about seventy thousand people visiting each year. At this time, the population of the city of Lausanne was only about seven thousand.


1170, construction started with an ambulatory, using Roman materials. Most of the dressed stone used in the cathedral is molasse.
1190, a second builder started the present church; this took until
1215, Jean Cotereel, the third and main architect, continued by constructing the western
section, its porch and two towers, one with a belfry, though the other tower was not completed.
1275, the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gregory X in the presence
of King Rudolf of Habsburg
1536, during the Reformation, the cathedral was stripped of almost all its
decoration - altars, statues and paintings, leaving the building’s interior remarkably uncluttered and neat. The 12th century gold and silver Virgin and child statue were melted down for coins, and liturgical vestments and tapestries were put in a Bern museum.
Thus the Catholic cathedral came under Protestant control.
18th century, several restorations works effectuated
1873, Eugène Viollet Le-Duc started
restoring the cathedral, which restoration is still on-going. Viollet-le-Duc died at Lausanne in 1879.
2007, the most recent restoration of the exterior stonework, damaged by rain
and other atmospheric pollution, was completed.

Plan of Cathedrale Notre Dame de Lausanne

Cathedral dimensions

The cathedral: 80 metres/262 feet long
including choir: 20 metres/66 feet long
Total aisle width: 26 metres/85 feet
including main nave: 19.3 metres/63 feet wide
Nave arches: 32.5 metres/106.6 feet
Choir arches: 24.3 metres/79.7 feet.
Facade towers: 44 metres/144 feet
These are topped by an oak cross 4 metres/13 feet high.
South rose window
diameter: 8 metres/26 feet
stone tracery: 1205
glass: circa 1230
Bell tower (Burgundy tower)
A Burgundy oak frame supports 6 bells, the largest weighing between 8,000 and 9,000 kg /17,600 and 19,800 pounds and measuring 2.07 metres/6.8 feet in diameter!

Stained glass

Maquette of the rose window's stone tracery
Maquette of the rose window’s stone tracery

The rose window [1231–35] in the south facade is considered to be one of the most important roses in Europe, together with those at Notre Dame in Paris and at Chartres. The Lausanne South Rose was made by a wandering artist from Picardy, Pierre d’Arras, and is related in style and iconography to that of the Laon workshop.

In medieval times, large rose windows were often a representation of the universe. Thus, Lausanne’s large rose contains images representing the four seasons, four elements, four winds, four rivers of paradise, as well as the twelve labours of the months and the signs of the zodiac. [The rose was restored in 1894-98 by E. Hosch. Missing panels were replaced, while others, such as the centre, were improvised.]

13th-century stained glass South Rose  window at Lausanne cathedral
detailed analysis of this rose

As well as the medieval rose, Lausanne cathedral also holds twentieth-century glass that combines both medieval and Art Nouveau - Jugendstil - motifs. The glass was executed during the inter-war years by French Swiss glass artists Marcel Poncet, Louis Rivier and François de Ribaupierre, Alexandre Cingria, Charles Clément and Edmond Bille.

Taller twentieth century stained glass above, shorter 13th century glass below - Lausanne cathedral
Taller twentieth century stained glass above, shorter 13th century glass below

Some of the twentieth-century glass, Lausanne cathedralSome of the twentieth-century glass, Lausanne cathedralSome of the twentieth-century glass, Lausanne cathedral

Twentieth-century stained glass

The organ

Part of the new organ, Lausanne cathedral
[Note central trumpet pipes ]

When the 1955 organ developed ‘breathing’ problems, the chosen builders, Massachusetts-based C.B. Fisk, and Italian designer Giugiaro, made the new 7,000-pipe, 100-stop organ. Giugiaro, who designs Lamborghini and other cars, modelled the body of the organ on an angel floating floating on a cloud of light.

To see in the cathedral

Chapel of the Bourbon, south aisle:
Front portals have medallions depicting the Creation, the life of St. John, and the signs of the zodiac.
Stained glass in upper row of windows dates from 1501.
13th-century stalls. When the choir was refurnished after the Revolution, these stalls were purchased from the abbey at Cluny, which had put them on sale.
High altar:
Two crosses commemorating the union of the Greek and Latin Churches - the Union of Lyons, proclaimed at the 14th Ecumenical Council in 1274.
South door - the Apostles’ or Painted Doorway:
Medieval churches were known for their multicoloured [polychrome] decoration of walls, doorways and statuary. This remarkable example at Lausanne, reputedly one of the best in Europe, was constructed between 1230 and 1235. Although it was not damaged by the destruction of the Reformation, the painted statuary was covered in whitewash. The portal was cleaned and restored between 1974 and 1991, and in 2007 when the statuary was consolidated and high-tech glass panels were installed to protect the porch.

The statuary of this portal includes:
Tympanum: the crowning of the Virgin and Christ in Majesty in a mandala.
Lintel: Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin.
Central pier: Archangel Gabriel and St-Michel.
Column statues, divided into four groups of three at the four corners
   near the doorway:
  Moses, St-Jean-Baptiste and Simeon; and St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John.
  to the outside:
  Isaiah, David, and Jeremiah; and St. Matthew, St. Luke and St. Marc.
South transept:
Some medieval painting still extant.
Entrance to sacristy, south transept:
Fine 18th-century grillwork

Visitors can climb the 225 steps to the observation deck of one of the two towers, overlooking the city of Lausanne and with views across Lake Geneva. About half a million people visit the Cathedral de Notre Dame every year.

Regular concerts are held in the cathedral to which the general public is welcome.

1924 postcard of Lausanne City, with Cathedral de Notre Dame, Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond.
1924 postcard of Lausanne City, with Cathedral de Notre Dame,
Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond

Lausanne Cathedral is now the only city in Europe to follow a tradition started in 1405, of a night watch. This was very important in earlier times, when most buildings were made of wood, to prevent the all-too-common threat of devastating fires. The watchman walks up to the top of the tower, every hour on the hour from 22:000 to 02:00 (10pm to 2am). At the tower top, he calls out to the four points of the compass: C‘est le guet; il a sonné l’heure (“This is the night watch; the hour has struck”). Since 2002, this task has been performed by Renato Häusler.

Each year, on December 31 at midnight, to mark the transition to the new year, a display of sounds, light and smoke gives the impression that the tower caught fire.

Nowadays, Protestant services are held on Sundays at 10:00 and 20:00, the cathedral being closed to non-worshipping visitors during these periods. From time to time, Catholic services are held.

Opening times and entrance charges

April to September:
Mon-Fri: 08:00-18:30/8am-6:30pm,
Sat: 08:30-18:00/8:30am-6pm
Sun: 14:00-19:00/2-7pm
Mon-Fri 07:30-18:00/7:30am-6pm
Sat 08:30-17:00/8:30am-5pm
Sun 14:00-17:30/2-5:30pm.
Entrance to cathedral: free
to the tower: 2 F
Background facts
LausanneLausanne coat of arms approximate population : 125,885
average altitude/elevation : 528 m
cathedral dimensions
height of belfry : 67,50 m
height of lantern tower : 79,60 m (restored by Viollet-le-Duc)

end notes

  1. Dormition:
    A major Christian festival is the commemoration of the death of the Blessed Virgin Mary, called in liturgical language the “Dormition of Our Lady”. The Dormition is the first of the three days that Mary lay before her ‘translation’ into heaven, on Assumption, 15th August.

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