Saint Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France

The magnificent Saint-Jean Cathedral at the foot of the Fourvière hill is one of the oldest and most magnificent buildings in the old town and one of the most important churches in Lyon.

As the seat of the city's archbishop, Saint-Jean Cathedral in the old town of Lyon is Lyon's most important church alongside the magnificent Basilica of Notre Dame on Mont Fourvière. Since 1862, Saint-Jean Cathedral has been considered a "monument historique" and is therefore a listed building. The magnificent place of worship is one of our 10 most beautiful churches in France and one of our top 10 sights in Lyon.


PICTURES: Saint Jean Cathedral in Lyon

Photo gallery: Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon

History of Lyon Cathedral

Saint-Jean Cathedral shines particularly magnificently at the annual "Festival of Lights" in Lyon, France - © Oscity / Shutterstock
© Oscity / Shutterstock

It is said that a church stood on the site of today's Saint-Jean Cathedral as early as the 2nd century. However, there is evidence of a church from the 6th century. Today's 20m wide and 30m high cathedral was built between 1165 and 1481 and combines Romanesque and Gothic elements in its architecture.

Since its construction, Saint-Jean Cathedral has been the scene of several important events, including the First and Second Councils of Lyon, the election of John XXII as Pope, the marriage of King Henry IV and Mary de Medici, and the appointment of Richelieu as Cardinal.

Tip: The cathedral shines particularly splendidly during the annual "Festival of Lights" in Lyon. Every year around 8 December, dazzling plays of colour bring the façade of the church to life.

Visit to Saint-Jean Cathedral

The ornate rosette above the entrance portal of Saint-Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France, has a diameter of 6 metres - © Pierre-Jean Durieu / Shutterstock
© Pierre-Jean Durieu / Shutterstock

If you take a closer look at Sain-Jean Cathedral, you will notice the 320 medallions on the Gothic façade. As the "picture bible of the poor", they show the story of creation and other events of the Old and New Testaments. A look inside is also worthwhile in any case, because its interior presents itself just as impressively as its exterior.

In the 80m-long nave, paintings depict 300 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. To the left and right of the altar, two large crosses recall the planned unification of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which was discussed at the Second Council of Lyon.

Two statues of John the Baptist and Saint Stephen are enthroned at the end of the choir. The church is named after these two saints, as its full name is Église Saint-Jean-Baptiste-et-Saint-Étienne.

Also noteworthy are the coloured stained glass windows, which contain particularly many shades of blue on the south side to keep out the heat of the sun, the two 6m-wide window rosettes on the north and south façades and the precious tapestries.


On a tour of the Saint-Jean Cathedral, one notices the numerous chapels, of which the Bourbon Chapel from the 15th century is particularly worth seeing.

Astronomical clock - one of the oldest in Europe

In addition to the time, the astronomical clock in Saint-Jean Cathedral also shows the positions of the sun, moons and earth, Lyon, France - © Chris 73 CC BY-SA3.0/Wiki
© Chris 73 CC BY-SA3.0/Wiki

A marvel of engineering is the astronomical clock of Saint-Jean Cathedral with its wrought-iron movement. Its first documentary mention dates back to 1383, making it one of the oldest clocks in all of Europe. Still impressive to behold, the massive timepiece is over 9m high and nearly 2m wide.

In addition to the time, the astronomical clock also shows the positions of the sun, moons and earth, the time for the rising of some stars and the date, which is calculated correctly until 2019. Clearly visible is the viewpoint of the time that the sun revolves around the earth.

Several times a day, the rooster on the roof of the clock crows and flaps its wings. Then figures appear representing the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, who brings her the message of the Lord.

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