The voice of the Cathedral

November 28, 2019

You may have already visited the Cathedral of Lausanne in daylight but have you been there by night? Discover more about the Cathedral’s night watchman!

Between 10pm and 2am, Renato Häusler stands at the top of the Cathedral’s bell tower and shouts out each hour to the residents. As the Cathedral’s night watchman, this role was historically meant to watch over the city but it now remains to perpetuate a 600 year-old tradition. Not to mention that the view over Lausanne asleep is breathtaking! It’s definitiely worth staying awake a while longer, right?

Le fameux guet de la Cathédrale de Lausanne Le fameux guet de la Cathédrale de Lausanne

Because this job intrigued us as much as it probably has intrigued you reading these lines, Renato Haüsler agreed to meet with us and answer our questions so we could better understand this atypical daily routine.

How did you end up as the night watchman at Lausanne Cathedral?

Renato Häusler: While I was visiting the top of the cathedral’s Tour du Beffroi with some students, I got this extraordinary feeling. But it was only much later, in October 1987, that I learnt they were looking for a stand-in for the night watchman, who was Willy Annen at the time. Being chosen for the job was fate.

You’ve been the official night watchman since 2002. How have you found it?

I knew a bit about the cathedral and the night watchman’s work beforehand, but holding the position has been a whole new experience. I particularly like the feeling that my work continues a centuries-old tradition – and in such a historic setting, too. I’m like the latest link in a long, 615-year-old chain. What is more, I find it interesting to have a job that is totally out of keeping with our modern society, where everyone is required to do as much work as they can in as little time as possible. At the top of the bell tower, it’s like I’m in a little bubble where time has stood still. I’m quite old-fashioned, so this place and these feelings suit me perfectly.

What do you do between your rounds?

I mostly give myself over to my other work: candle illuminations. I make jars filled with liquid wax for the Kalalumen light displays, so I use the cathedral for trial runs, prepare my materials, and so on. I’ve got internet access while I’m here, too, so I also enjoy listening to classical music, or programmes about history or the origins of the world. But I love the silence more than anything else. That little room at the top of the bell tower is perfect for introspection. Mentally, the calmness there is such a breath of fresh air.

Do you have any stories you could share?

My favourite stories are about nature. I’m often visited by a little bat. Sometimes I find swifts which are chilled to the bone on the stairs. My other highlights are two spectacular storms, in 2003 and 2018. Watching the elements rage as bolts of lightning zigzag across the sky, and feeling the cathedral buffeted by gusts of wind is an extraordinary experience.

What is your favourite part of your rounds?

I enjoy my moments of solitude in the cathedral, especially when I get to sleep in the lodge’s little bunk. But I think my favourite part is climbing the stairs – all 153 of them. When I get to the top, I stop for a moment to admire the view laid out in front of me. And, every single time, I think to myself how incredibly lucky I am to be there.

Places mentioned in the article
Discover the Lausanners