Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Considered to be Switzerland’s greatest church, the massive Cathedral in Lausanne was begun in 1175 and consecrated by Pope Gregory X in 1275. The Cathedral was never actually completed and remains incomplete to this day.

During the Middle Ages the Cathedral was home to a miraculous Virgin Mary Statue known as the Golden Virgin which ensured a steady stream of pilgrims and a healthy bank balance.

Like many medieval cities, Lausanne was once mostly built of wood. To avoid the devastating fires that plagued these cities, Lausanne instituted a nightwatch. Every night men were stationed around the City at different vantage points to keep watch for fires and enemies. The Cathedral had its own nightwatchman, being at the highest point of even this hilly City, and every hour from 10 am to 2 am he would call out “C’est le guet; il a sonné l’heure” (This is the nightwatch, the hour has struck). Lausanne is the only city left in Europe that continues this tradition, and many a visitor to Lausanne at night has been surprised when the call from the top of the Cathedral rings out.

In 1536 Lausanne Cathedral fell foul of the Reformation habit of stripping out any decoration which hinted, even remotely, of idolatry. Switzerland, being the home of Calvinism, was pretty early in this habit. Whatever remained was subsequently stripped out by the Bernese Army as they moved in on the Canton of Vaud. The Golden Virgin was melted down and pressed into coinage.

Today the Cathedral stands as the focal point for Lausanne and, although stripped of its decorations (as with English Cathedrals) it can still be seen as an architecturally dramatic structure and makes a most satisfying visit in a very attractive city.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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