One of the highlights of Lyon’s Presqu’île district, is undoubtedly the beautiful and historic Basilica of Saint-Martin d’Ainay. The basilica is predominantly in the Romanesque style and dates from the late 11th century.
The Basilica of Saint-Martin d’Ainay displays various styles of architecture: the Saint Blandina chapel is pre-Romanesque; the main structure is Romanesque; the Saint Michael chapel is Gothic; and the 19th century restoration and enlargement is in the Romanesque Revival manner.
Nonetheless, the historic church retains a true unity of style.
The nave is 17 metres wide, and the entire structure is 37 metres long.
The basilica was once part of a prosperous and powerful abbey that was founded in 859. Records indicate that there was a church on the site at the same time. The church was rebuilt in the 10th century and in 1107 was consecrated. In the later 12th and early 13th century the abbey is known to have enjoyed significant wealth and power. By the 14th century, however, there had been a decline in the abbey, attributed largely to the plague. The abbey was decimated and the church damaged by the War of Religion in 1562. Eventually, both were restored but by the turn of the 18th century, Saint Martin d’Ainay was no more than a parish church. During the French Revolution of 1789 – 1799 the church was used for grain storage and, ultimately, was damaged once more.
In 1844 the church was classed as a state recognised historical monument, and over the course of the 19th century, the architects Pollet and Benoôt restored it in a Romanesque Revival style.
On the 13th of June 1905 the church was given basilica status by Pope Saint Pius X.
A Lyonnais legend which spoke of a truly enormous church, said to have once stood stood on the site of the Basilica, was noted by Gregory of Tours and could possibly be linked to the account in Historia Ecclesiae, by Eusebius, of the martyrdom of Blandina (the Sainte-Blandine church, also in Lyon’s 2nd Arrondissement is just over a kilometre from the basilica). The young Blandina was among 48 Christians thrown to the lions by the Romans in 177AD in Lyon’s amphitheatre.
According to Eusebius’ account, the lions would not eat her. Nonetheless, she and the others were martyred by the Romans. Their bones were set on fire, dumped in the river, and later washed up further downstream where the surviving members of the Christian community buried them secretly beneath an altar of what Gregory refers to as a “basilica of remarkable magnitude.”
The basilica of Saint-Martin is the final resting place of the famed Irish lexicographer and antiquarian, Bishop John O’Brien of Cloyne and Ross in Ireland. Bishop O’Brien died in Lyon on the 13th of March 1769, having spent the last three years of his life in the city.
A place of worship
Like most churches in France, the Basilica of Saint-Martin is slightly less strict when it comes to dress code than travellers might find when visiting churches in Italy. The Basilica is open to visits from believers of all faiths and of none at all. It is, however, important to bear in mind that it is a place of worship and tourists are asked to behave respectfully and keep noise to a minimum, particularly during mass or services.
The Basilica is located in the heart of Lyon’s Presqu’ile in the 2nd Arrondissement. If travelling by metro, the Basilica is located less than 200m from Ampère-Victor Hugo metro station (on Metro line A). On exiting the metro station, Head northwest on Place Ampère toward Rue d’Auvergne, continue onto Rue des Remparts d’Ainay, turn left onto Rue de l’Abbaye d’Ainay, and finally turn right onto Place d’Ainay where the Basilica is situated.
Saint Martin d’Ainay Basilica
Place d’Ainay – 69002 Lyon 2ème
Open from 8:30am to 12:00pm daily and from 2:30pm to 6:00pm Monday to Saturday.
Mass: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8:30am, Sunday at 9:00am and 10:30am
Entry to the basilica is free.