Standing before the Saints in Lausanne

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Lausanne, Switzerland

From the outside, the Cathedral of Lausanne has a tidy, quiet, trying-not-to-look-majestic-but-oh!-I’ve-failed air about it.  It is magnificently positioned, on a hill with views of the city, Lake Geneva and the surrounding landscape, which on a clear day makes for a educational panorama.

View from outside Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  You can just about make out the lake in the top left.

View from outside Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  You can just about make out the lake in the top left.

The cathedral itself is the largest Gothic building in Switzerland.  Building work started in 1145 and finished in 1235, which is fairly quick by medieval standards.  The immediate prestige of the place is demonstrated by the fact that it was officially consecrated to the Virgin Mary in 1275 by the then ailing Pope Gregory X and in the presence of the father of the Hapsburg dynasty, Rudolph I of Germany.

Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

With the Reformation hitting Vaud during the Bernese annexation in 1536, a lot of changes occurred in the Cathedral, mainly in the form of destruction.  Out went the objects relating the saints, out went the altarpiece, out went anything that was colourful and pretty.  The frescoes on the walls, along with the decorated architectural elements, were all whitewashed, and people were now ready to concentrate on the messages of the Bible rather than being distracted by the pretty things around them.

Naturally various modifications have been made over the years, but the most significant changes occurred during the restoration of the Cathedral in the 19th century under the guidance of the somewhat controversial French architect Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.  He made ‘interpretive restorations’ in Notre Dame in Paris, the wall-towers in Carcassonne and Lausanne Cathedral.  The reason he is controversial is perhaps best summed up in his own words:  he thought that restoration was a “means to reestablish [a building] to a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed at any given time”.  This is why Notre Dame has a rebuilt tower that is totally different in style and much taller than the original it was ‘restoring’, and why the southern French town of Carcassonne has northern French-style pointed roofs.

One of the projects instigated by Viollet-le-Duc in Lausanne Cathedral was the re-design of the Montfalcon Portal, named after the two bishops who had started the project.  The original medieval project was never finished because of the Reformation, and the portal had fallen into disrepair by the 19th century.  From 1892-1909 the sculptor Raphael Lungeon worked on creating what is seen today.  And it has been recently restored: hence its ridiculous, whiter-than-white colour.

The Montfalcon Portal, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Montfalcon Portal, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Porch, Vestibule and Montfalcon Chapel

Inside the porch area are some lovely statues, about which there was no information, and some uncovered frescoes from the 15/16th centuries, which were hard to see but looked impressive.

Uncovered fresco in the porch, 15th/16th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Uncovered fresco in the porch, 15th/16th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue in the porch of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue in the porch of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue of woman with church, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue of woman with church, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue of woman with sword, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Statue of woman with sword, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

In the vestibule is a monument to Harriet Canning, who died during childbirth in 1817, dedicated by her husband, Stratford Canning.  He was a cousin of George Canning, who was briefly British Prime Minister in 1827.  Stratford Canning had a very interesting diplomatic career himself, and was in Switzerland from 1814-1819, acting as Envoy, helping to negotiate Swiss neutrality and a new Swiss federal constitution.

Memorial to Harriet Canning, 1817, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Memorial to Harriet Canning, 1817, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

As you enter the bay, if you go left, there is the Montfalcon Chapel.  This is where Bishop Aymon de Montfalcon is buried.  The stalls are made of walnut wood and date from 1509.  It’s hard to see much beyond the grille but the quality is obvious even from the distance we viewed it from.

The Montfalcon Chapel, 1509, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Montfalcon Chapel, 1509, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Nave

Looking down the nave, the interior of the cathedral is plain, but super elegant.  The effects of the Reformation are evident in the lack of adornment, from the vaulted ceiling to the stone floor.

The nave of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The nave of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

However, some colourful painted walls have been uncovered (by the Rose window), so presumably the tranquil interior of today would have originally looked more like this:

The amazing painted columns of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  It looks like a Victorian medieval revival pattern.

The amazing painted columns of Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  It looks like a Victorian medieval revival pattern.

The nave with the 17th century pulpit, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The nave with the 17th century pulpit, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Wooden sounding board, 1633, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Wooden sounding board, 1633, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Worried man in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Worried man in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Painted Portal

And now we come to the undoubted star attraction of the Cathedral: the polychrome sculpture dating from the 13th century.  The Painted Portal, as it is known, was intended to welcome visiting pilgrims, some of whom would be on their way to Compostela, while others came specifically to visit the miraculous image of Our Lady of Lausanne.  All around are statues of prophets, apostles and evangelists, and over the lintel is a depiction of the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  In the panel above is the key scene of her being crowned by Jesus, who is presented as the Redeemer bringing salvation to all.

The Painted Portal, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Working from the doors upward, the scene of the Dormition of the Virgin is on the left, the Assumption on the right.  The scene above shows Jesus in a mandorla, reaching out to crown Mary and accompanied by angels.

The Painted Portal, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Working from the doors upward, the scene of the Dormition of the Virgin is on the left, the Assumption on the right.  The scene above shows Jesus in a mandorla, reaching out to crown Mary and accompanied by angels.

Christ the Redeemer, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Jesus in a mandorla, crowning Mary, to the left.  You can just about make out that her hair is loose and she has her hand held in prayer.  Note the angels on the extreme edges holding censers, and the beautiful pattern on the fabric of the angel on the right of the mandorla - and also look at the way his face is squished against Jesus' throne.

Christ the Redeemer, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Jesus in a mandorla, crowning Mary, to the left.  You can just about make out that her hair is loose and she has her hand held in prayer.  Note the angels on the extreme edges holding censers, and the beautiful pattern on the fabric of the angel on the right of the mandorla – and also look at the way his face is squished against Jesus’ throne.

The construction of the portal and the statues occurred between 1225-1230/5 and it had already earned the name of the ‘painted portal’ by 1318, which proves how special it was, even at the time.  It got covered in three layers of whitewash in 1536 during the Reformation, but over time, some of the colour became visible under the flaking paint and in 1881 sections were cleared and studied.  Because of the damage from the weather, various attempts were made to protect the statues, until finally copies were made in the 1920s and the originals were moved to under the Rose windows.  The statues were then analysed, cleaned and restored and were returned to their original home in 1991, when a suitable glass extension was constructed to protect them.

View from the inside of the Cathedral, out through the doors of the Painted Portal, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View from the inside of the Cathedral, out through the doors of the Painted Portal, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View of the columns and archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View of the columns and archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

From left to right, Isaiah, King David and Jeremiah, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

From left to right, Isaiah, King David and Jeremiah, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The blending of Old and New Testament figures reflects the medieval understanding of the Bible, in that the Old Testament predicted the coming of Jesus, while the New Testament demonstrates and celebrates Him.  During the Middle Ages, Mary herself developed an importance within Catholicism which almost put her on the same footing as her Son – which was one of the major theological issues the Protestants had a problem with, because people prayed to Mary, rather than to Jesus/God.  What is interesting in the scenes above the lintel is that even though the pilgrims were entering the Cathedral to see the relics of Mary, they make a point of showing her in a subordinate position to Jesus.  The message seems to be that while Mary can intercede on your behalf, Jesus is the Redeemer and the Saviour, and His is the final word.  This placement of Mary in a secondary role may be what saved it from destruction from the Protestants.

The Dormition of Mary, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Note the delicate way her body is being handled, and the profound sadness on the faces of the Apostles.

The Dormition of Mary, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Note the delicate way her body is being handled, and the profound sadness on the faces of the Apostles.

The Assumption of Mary, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The Angels are now on hand to take her up to heaven.  Note the amazing wing of the Angel, and the passive, calm expressions, which contrast with the sadness of the previous scene.

The Assumption of Mary, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The Angels are now on hand to take her up to heaven.  Note the amazing wing of the Angel, and the passive, calm expressions, which contrast with the sadness of the previous scene.

So while the statues have been reconstructed, de-reconstructed, restored, de-restored, what is seen today is truly magnificent and the colours are extraordinary and unique.  It is utterly incredible to be able to see the pupils in the eyes, the patterns on the fabrics, the rosy cheeks… I found it hard to tear myself away, because with the changing light, different features because visible and it was always just too fascinating to leave.

Probably St Michael, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  He is standing on the crenellated building symbolising Jerusalem.  Notice the amazing colour of the robes and the charming pattern on his shawl.

Probably St Michael, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  He is standing on the crenellated building symbolising Jerusalem.  Notice the amazing colour of the robes and the charming pattern on his shawl.

Harpy at the feet of St Paul, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  This would remind the viewer of Paul's thorn in the flesh, Satan's assault and God's response to Paul, "my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Harpy at the feet of St Paul, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  This would remind the viewer of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, Satan’s assault and God’s response to Paul, “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Some of the ancestors of Jesus, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The figures are around the archivolts (that is the bit going around the the top of the arch).

Some of the ancestors of Jesus, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The figures are around the archivolts (that is the bit going around the the top of the arch).

Figures around the archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Figures around the archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Colourful figures around the archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Colourful figures around the archivolts, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View of the Painted Portal, 13th century, Lausanne, Switzerland.  From left to right: St John the Baptist, holding the Lamb of God (those bits coming off his shawl that look like ermine is apparently camel hair); Simon the Elder, holding the baby Jesus in his arms; in the background is the panel above the door, showing the Dormition of Mary.

View of the Painted Portal, 13th century, Lausanne, Switzerland.  From left to right: St John the Baptist, holding the Lamb of God (those bits coming off his shawl that look like ermine is apparently camel hair); Simon the Elder, holding the baby Jesus in his arms; in the background is the panel above the door, showing the Dormition of Mary.

Moses holding the 10 Commandments, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Note how he has horns: a common depiction in the Middle Ages, due to St Jerome's translation of the Bible which mentions that Moses's face was 'horned' after speaking with God.  This is now usually translated as 'his face shone' instead.

Moses holding the 10 Commandments, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  Note how he has horns: a common depiction in the Middle Ages, due to St Jerome’s translation of the Bible which mentions that Moses’s face was ‘horned’ after speaking with God.  This is now usually translated as ‘his face shone’ instead.

St Mark, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland. His body is positioned so that he greets the pilgrims.  Note the red of the inside of his clothing and the pretty detailing around the collar.

St Mark, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland. His body is positioned so that he greets the pilgrims.  Note the red of the inside of his clothing and the pretty detailing around the collar.

St Matthew, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  He is holding his gospel open at the inscription "Liber generationis Jesu Christi" (the Book of Generations of Jesus Christ".

St Matthew, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  He is holding his gospel open at the inscription “Liber generationis Jesu Christi” (the Book of Generations of Jesus Christ”.

St Luke, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

St Luke, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

St John, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

St John, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

King David with amazing eyes, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

King David with amazing eyes, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Rose Window

Once you’ve finished exploring the portal, the next stop of note is the Rose window, which is thought to be the work of Pierre d’Arras between 1205-1232.  Of the 105 stained glass windows, 78 are original and the rest were created in the late 19th century by Edward Hosch.  Once again the Viollet-le-Duc philosophy of restoration is evident, as Hosch didn’t just replace the broken windows – he rearranged the medallions and put God as the central subject.  As it happens, the window was subjected to a number of restoration attempts over the centuries, and Hosch removed most of the post-medieval additions, but he also created his own new compositions: like God.  The leaflet about the window, available at the Cathedral, details which panels are original and which are later.

The Rose Window, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Rose Window, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Detail of the Rose window, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  In the centre is Fire breastfeeding a salamander (I think this has something to do with the fact that Aristotle started a rumour about salamanders being fire-proof.  The myth was oft repeated - with variations - and the salamader became a popular motif in the Middle Ages.)  Going clockwise from the top roundel is Sol (the Sun) riding a chariot, in classical fashion (like Apollo); Leo, Cancer and Virgo.  These are all originals from the 13th century.

Detail of the Rose window, 13th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  In the centre is Fire breastfeeding a salamander (I think this has something to do with the fact that Aristotle started a rumour about salamanders being fire-proof.  The myth was oft repeated – with variations – and the salamader became a popular motif in the Middle Ages.)  Going clockwise from the top roundel is Sol (the Sun) riding a chariot, in classical fashion (like Apollo); Leo, Cancer and Virgo.  These are all originals from the 13th century.

The window demonstrates an ‘imago mundi’ – the medieval view of the world.  God is in the centre setting about the Creation.  Around this are the four seasons, 12 months of the year, 12 zodiac signs and four elements.  The other panels show random other scenes, including a satyr and a dog-headed man.  Somehow I missed him at the time.

Anyway, the window is lovely and though it is quite hard to see, being so far up and all, it is so wonderful that some 13th century windows are still in situ.

Tombs

At the base of the Rose window are the tombs of three bishops dating from the 13th to 15th centuries.

Bishop's tomb in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Bishop’s tomb in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Embracing figures on a bishop's tomb, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Embracing figures on a bishop’s tomb, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Curious lion holding up the tomb of a bishop, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Curious lion holding up the tomb of a bishop, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Ambulatory

As you follow the route round the Ambulatory there are further monuments, including one for a 13th century bishop and various Vaud and Berne luminaries.

View of the ambulatory, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View of the ambulatory, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

A bishop in the ambulatory, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

A bishop in the ambulatory, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Not sure who this family is, but I love the griffins, particularly the one doing the Thriller dance at the top, in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.

Not sure who this family is, but I love the griffins, particularly the one doing the Thriller dance at the top, in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.

Choir

The open and airy choir of the cathedral is very elegant and the 20th century stained glass windows look very striking against the arching architectural forms.

The choir in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The choir in Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

As you go into the Choir on the left is another tomb, this one to Otton de Grandson (c1238-1328) – someone else with an English connection and who had a very interesting life.  Though he was born in the Swiss town of Grandson, Otton went to England with the bishop of Lausanne and entered the household of Prince Edward (Edward I).  They became great friends, and Otton followed the King to the crusades, as well as on Edward’s subsequent campaigns in Scotland and Wales.  He was made a governor of the Channel Islands, and was granted land in England and Ireland as a reward for his loyal service.  He went back to Grandson towards the end of his life, and died during an attempt to see Rome for one last time – at the age of 90.

Tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

Tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The face of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  It's really fascinating being able to see his face, because it looks like the sculptor has hinted at his old age by carving in lines and bags under his eyes.

The face of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  It’s really fascinating being able to see his face, because it looks like the sculptor has hinted at his old age by carving in lines and bags under his eyes.

Detail of the tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland. Lovely frills on his skirt and it's interesting to see how they've rendered the chain-mail.

Detail of the tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland. Lovely frills on his skirt and it’s interesting to see how they’ve rendered the chain-mail.

Detail of the tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The symbol of fidelity, the lion, is at his feet, but it looks a) like he's pushing against the poor creature and b) the lion is squashed right against the end panel of the tomb and he does look miserable about it.

Detail of the tomb of Otton de Grandson, 14th century, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland.  The symbol of fidelity, the lion, is at his feet, but it looks a) like he’s pushing against the poor creature and b) the lion is squashed right against the end panel of the tomb and he does look miserable about it.

Organ

The Cathedral is enormously proud of its insanely expensive organ.  It cost 6 million francs (2003 price – not sure what the equivalent value is) and it was ten years in the designing.  If you are interested in the how the organ was made, how it works and when the next concert is, pop to their own website, which is also available in English www.grandesorgues.ch

View from the altar towards the main entrance and the organ, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

View from the altar towards the main entrance and the organ, Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

One last point. Lausanne is proud of its idiosyncratic lookout man, who is still based in the Cathedral bell tower.  Not the same man, clearly.  Since 1405 the lookout has yelled the hours between 10pm and 2am.  The chap originally served the purpose of keeping watch and giving warning of fires – a vital job in a town of wooden houses.  Now this just has a traditional function, about which you can read more in this article: www.digitalnomad.nationalgeographic.com

So In Summary

Visiting Lausanne Cathedral was an enormously fulfilling experience: the cathedral itself is very atmospheric and has a real elegant grandeur, but the treasures it has in terms of medieval art is incredible.  To have these still in situ made it all the more magical.  You could almost imagine being a pilgrim from 600 years ago, standing in awe of man’s skill and divine power.

Some Useful Information

The cathedral has its own website www.lacathedrale.eerv.ch (in French) which gives practical information about the building, but also about the everyday workings of the church.  There is also a section on the Cathedral on the Vaud site, www.patrimoine.vd.ch (in French) which gives practical information as well as more about the history of the building.  There are information leaflets to download, although these are also available in the Cathedral shop, in multiple languages, including English.

How to Get There

As is to be expected, the Lausanne transport site is very helpful and available in English www.t-l.ch

For more general transport links from places in Switzerland, the sbb.ch is as useful as ever.

Sources

C Huguenin & W Stöckli, (2011) Repères historiques et archéologiques, in “La Nef et le Portail Peint: Cathédrale de Lausanne”, pp 2-4, Publication du Service Immeubles, Patrimoine et Logistique: Lausanne  (available via: www.vd.ch

J Muller (2017) Le Porteil Peint de la Cathédrale de Lausanne, Les Editions de la Tour Lanterne: Lausanne

 

SaveSave

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: