Lausanne Cathedral - ©  LT/

The Cathedral of Lausanne

Constructed from 1165 onwards but not consecrated until 1275, Lausanne Cathedral is the biggest in Switzerland. Built in the Gothic style, it has one of the finest stained-glass windows in Europe and the biggest musical instrument in Switzerland. Every night a watchman announces the time every hour from 10.00 at night to 2.00 in the morning from the top of a tower.

It took over a century of construction work before the Protestant Notre-Dame Cathedral of Lausanne was consecrated on 20 October 1275 in the presence of Pope Gregory X and Emperor Rudolf of Habsburg. The work begun in 1165 was initially done in the Roman style. With its completion lasting several decades and construction supervisors adapting to the evolution of architecture, most of the cathedral was built in the Gothic style. It subsequently underwent extensive restoration in the 18th and 19th centuries. Built on the hill of the old Cité, it dominates the whole town.

In the Middle Ages Lausanne Cathedral was a place of pilgrimage. It was visited by 70,000 people a year, even though the town only had a population of 7,000. The biggest Gothic monument in Switzerland, the cathedral currently receives half a million visitors a year and is of international significance. As the centrepiece of the remarkable collection of 13th-century stained-glass windows, the Rose Window underwent a complete renovation lasting 7 years. Composed of 105 medallions, it is considered to be one of the most important in Europe alongside those of Notre-Dame in Paris and in Chartres.

As a towering symbol of the Vaudois capital, the cathedral is also a venue for concerts and numerous cultural events. Its programme shows to advantage the cathedral’s new organ, which was inaugurated in December 2003. Apart from its impressive dimensions (11 m long, 8 m wide, 8 m high and 40 tonnes in weight), the particularity of this instrument lies in its design: three-manual symphonic (keyboards) and two-manual baroque, 7000 pipes, around one hundred registers, two consoles (control panels) located in the gallery and in the nave, absolutely exceptional high-tech electronic equipment thanks most notably to a MIDI interface system, which allows the playing of the organist to be recorded and for the organ to be played remotely, for example from another organ anywhere in the world on which this system is installed – an innovative field in contemporary musical production. The totally unique project to install the instrument in Lausanne was managed by an American organ builder, C.B. Fisk, and an internationally acclaimed Italian design architect, Giorgetto Giugiaro, with various components having been built in Germany, Canada and Switzerland. The titular organist of Lausanne Cathedral, Jean-Christophe Geiser, a brilliant international soloist, was involved in the whole project.

Another key personality, the night watchman perpetuates a Lausannois tradition dating back to 1405. Perched in his den, at the heart of the high tower, the watchman sends his message to four points on the horizon across the roofs of the old town. “C’est le guet, il a sonné dix, il a sonné dix...” (This is the night watch, the hour has struck…). He calls out every hour on the hour, from 10.00 at night to 2.00 in the morning, 365 days a year.

The night watch has been calling out the hour on the hour since 1405. This job existed for quite some time in several other European cities, given that it was vitally important to alert citizens in the event of danger, whether fire or such like, and to raise the alarm. The watchman also patrolled the streets on Sundays, making sure that absolute silence prevailed during religious services. Dogs and children were not allowed to disturb the peace and quiet of the place!

Renato Häusler has assumed the role of watchman since 2002. Trilingual and sporty, the night watchman has all the necessary attributes to fulfil this difficult task; in spite of the comfort of his base (bed, telephone, and radio), he is not fazed by having to ascend and descend the 160 steps in the tower in order to welcome the numerous visitors.

Editor: Newcom Partners Lausanne - Aurélie Moeri

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