Skip to content

Lausanne Cathedral: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Darla Uhl

A popular place to visit in Switzerland is the city of Lausanne, the capital and biggest city of the Canton Vaud. One of Lausanne’s most famous places is its Cathedral of Notre Dame of Lausanne. In this article, we will discuss the Lausanne Cathedral.

Lausanne Cathedral
Lausanne Cathedral from outside by TouringSwitzerland.com

The cathedral, ostensibly one of Switzerland’s most beautiful Gothic buildings, was consecrated in 1275. It is situated on Cité hill and is one of the main attractions in the medieval town of Lausanne. This cobbled-stone pedestrian area is absolutely charming – offering not only a glimpse of the past but also a stunning panoramic view of the city. 

History of Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral Entrance
Lausanne Cathedral Entrance by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Lausanne Cathedral was constructed between 1170 and 1275. It is the successor church of the 6th-century church dedicated to Saint Thyrsus. Later, it was renamed Saint-Maire. Pope Gregory X, King Rudolf von Habsburg, and Guillaume of Champvent, the bishop of Lausanne at the time, officially consecrated the church in 1275. 

The church began as a Carolingian structure, but around 1000 AD it was replaced by a Romanesque building. Over the years, the building was slowly replaced into what it is today. 

During the Reformation in 1536, it became a protestant cathedral.

Lausanne Cathedral Construction

The Lausanne Cathedral was constructed in three phases:

  1. The Ambulatory was built in the east around 1170 in the first phase.
  2. The choir, transept, nave, and lantern tower were all built around 1190 in the second phase.
  3. In the final phase, the Cathedral with its nave and two towers were completed. 

Though there is no record of two earlier masons, the last phase was completed under Jean Cotereel, who is also credited with building the fortified burgh of Saint-Prex and Yverdon Castle.

Between 1225 and 1235, the painted portals on the nave’s southern wall were added. 


Inside Lausanne Cathedral

Two of the most beautiful things to enjoy inside the Lausanne Cathedral are the Rose Window and the Painted Portal. 

Rose Window

Lausanne Cathedral's Beautiful Rose Window
Lausanne Cathedral Rose Window by TouringSwitzerland.com

South transept’s main feature is the 8.05 meter-diameter rose window.  Alongside that in Notre Dame in Paris and Chartres, it is considered one of the most significant rose windows of Europe. 

Built back in 1205, the rose window features 105 medallions encased in a stone tracery. The stone setting follows a precise and rare geometric design. 

The rose window presents the medieval view of the world – Imago Mundi – as a synthesis of all human knowledge. 

It is believed to be the work of French glass master and artist Pierre d’Arras. The rose window, however, was restored by Edouard Hosch in 1894 and now bears his mark. 

Painted Portals

Lausanne Cathedral's Painted Portal
Lausanne Painted Portal by TouringSwitzerland.com

Right in the heart of Lausanne Cathedral lies this painted treasure – Le Portail Peint.

With the fine details, quality of the sculpture, and excellent preservation of this medieval ensemble, the painted portal is one of the most important heritage sites in Europe. The work perfectly illustrates Gothic aesthetics and theology. 

The painted portal displays an original design of polychrome statues. It was erected by Jean Cotereel, the architect who also completed the cathedral’s nave and southern facade. 

This collection of sculptures made by French sculptors is stunning to look at. It is extremely complex and was inspired by homilies written by Saint Amédéé, the Bishop of Lausanne, in the 12th century. Mary’s intercession and the mysteries about the incarnation are the central themes of this work.  

After the sculptures were completed, they faced structural problems and had to be reinforced by the builders. Thanks to the efforts of conservators and restorers between 1974 and 1991, we can appreciate the variety and richness of their work.  

Great Organ and Bell Tower

Lausanne Cathedral's Bell Tower
Lausanne Cathedral Bell Tower as seen from outside by TouringSwitzerland.com

Ten years were spent designing the great pipe organ, which was inaugurated in December 2003. In addition to its 7,000 pipes, it has two consoles, five manuals, and a pedalboard. Moreover, it contains all four main organ styles, namely classical, French symphony, baroque, and German Romantic. 

224 stairs lead up to the belfry, from which you can see a panoramic view of Lausanne.  There are a total of seven bells on the belfry of the Lausanne Cathedral, which consists of two floors.

Lausanne Cathedral has a night watchman who calls out the hours starting at 10:00 PM until 2:00 AM, every day of the year. 


Outside Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne as seen from Lausanne Cathedral's Terrace
View from the terrace of Lausanne Cathedral by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Lausanne Cathedral is situated on Cité Hill, so you will be able to admire the city from the top.

There are a few nice places to visit near the Lausanne Cathedral including the Historic Museum (Musée Historique Lausanne),  Palais de Rumine, and Place de la Palud. 


How to Get to Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral is close to the following bus and metro stops:

  • Bessières metro and bus stops (Metro M2, Buses 6 and 7)
  • Pierre Viret bus stop (Bus 16)
  • Rue Neuve bus stop (Bus 1 and 2)
  • Riponne – Maurice Béjart bus stop (Bus 7 and 8)

The address is Pl. de la Cathédrale, 1005 Lausanne.


Final Thoughts: Lausanne Cathedral

Lausanne Cathedral
Lausanne Cathedral by TouringSwitzerland.com

Even though Lausanne Cathedral isn’t as well known as Europe’s most popular Gothic churches like Notre Dame de Paris and Westminster Abbey, it’s very well worth visiting. The cathedral is one of Switzerland’s best Gothic structures. 

Lausanne Cathedral receives over 400,000 visitors each year. Access to the cathedral is free. The bell tower, however, requires a small fee.

There are many intricate and beautiful details in the Lausanne Cathedral. The rose window is a splendid sight – large, intricate, and stunning. Also impressive is the painted portal. Several people will sit and stare at the artwork for quite some time, simply just admiring it. How they were able to sculpt such beautiful, intricate pieces and how they were restored for us to enjoy more than a century later is truly amazing.

The Lausanne Cathedral is open daily from 9:00 AM until 5:30 PM. From April to October, it is open until 7:00 PM. Visits to the bell tower are permitted 30 minutes until closing time and cost CHF 5.- for adults and CHF 2.- for children.


Resources

+ posts

Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.

Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.