Cathedral of St John the Baptist

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Things to do


Date of travel

August, 2017

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On your own

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The Cathedral of St John the Baptist in the heart of the Old Town and near the banks of the River Soane, dates back to the C11th and took nearly 300 years to complete. It was the most important church in Lyon until the “Basilica”: was built.

It was an important building as the Bishop was Primate of all the Gauls. It was built on the site of an earlier church, using Roman masonry. The treasury at the south west corner of the building is the only part of the original church to survive. The apse and transepts are C12th Romanesque architecture. The nave and side aisles with their flying buttresses are later C13th Gothic architecture.. The great west front is C14th. The side chapels off the side aisles were added in the C15th.

The inside of the cathedral was quite dark and less impressive than the outside with its carving and massive gargoyles. The nave is tall and narrow with tall fluted pillars leading to pointed arches with a small triphorium around the walls above them and large clerestory windows above. The chancel apse is small compared with the nave and has a simple stone altar with blind arcading round the walls. One of the tall lancet windows depicts the life of John the Baptist.

There are lovely stained glass round rose windows in the transepts and at the west end of the church.

The north transept contains an astronomical clock. This dates from the late C16th although the top is later. It has a perpetual as well as a religious calendar. The figures come to life at noon, two and three o’clock, so try and plan a visit at those times.

The Bourbon Chapel off the south aisle is much more elaborate and also functions as a Baptistry. The attractive modern stained glass windows reflect the flying buttress on the outside of the nave. Next to it is the Chapel of St Vincent which is reserved for private prayer, with its modern stained glass windows of the Crucifixion and wood triptych.

On the north wall is the Chapel of Relics with its statue of St Jean-Marie Vianney, Cire d’Ars and small reliquary boxes.

Steps at the back of the church lead to the Treasury with a display of tapestries, church plate and vestments. The church itself is not a must see, but if visiting, don’t miss this!

We visited here on Day 2 of Burgundy, the River Rhone and Provence, a river cruise with Riviera Travel.

My full account with all the pictures can be found “here.”:


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