Recently subject to a three and a half year period of renovation work, Lyon’s Saint John the Baptist Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon) is a Roman Catholic cathedral situated in Place Saint-Jean in the 5th Arrondissement of Lyon. Seat of the Archbishop of Lyon, the impressive edifice was constructed between the 12th and 15th centuries and is in the Gothic style. The cathedral sits on what was formerly the churches of St. Etienne (St. Stephen) and Ste Croix (Holy Cross) and a baptistery. The ruins of these structures remain visible in the archaeological garden found just next to the cathedral itself.
The astronomical clock
One of the undoubted highlights of a visit to Lyon’s cathedral is its beautiful 14th-century astronomical clock. Nine metres tall, this unique work of art sounds a combination of chimes, angels heralding, and roosters crowing at given times daily. An “astrolabe” displays the date together with the current position of the sun, moon, earth, and stars. The famous clock is a technological wonder and is one of the cathedral’s, if not Lyon’s, tourism highlights.
Two ornate crosses, found to the right and to the left of the main altar, are of particular interest to visitors. Dating from 1274, during the Second Council of Lyon, which was an effort to end the ‘Great Schism’ between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy. The crosses were erected as a symbol of the union of the churches. The union, of course, did not last, but fortunately the crosses have!
The cathedral also boasts a number of spectacular stained-glass windows, some of which date from the early 12th century, and feature Biblical stories from the Old and New Testaments.
Festival of Light
Lyon’s most famous and popular annual tourist event is the Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. During the Festival, cathedral Saint-Jean is traditionally one of the most popular locations to visit as its grand façade is used annually for a spectacular choreographed lighting display.
A place of worship
Churches in France are more relaxed when it comes to dress code than their Italian equivalents, and as a rule are quite welcoming to tourists of all faiths and none at all. It is, nonetheless, important to remember that the Cathedral is a place of worship and visitors are asked to behave respectfully, particularly during services. Simple gestures such as remaining silent while mass is going on, speaking softly otherwise, obeying the signage indicating which parts of the cathedral one may not enter, and gentlemen removing headgear will be greatly appreciated.
For those who would like to attend mass in the Cathedral, times can be found here.
The Cathedral sits in the heart of the Old Town (“Vieux Lyon”) and as such visiting it could not be easier. If travelling by metro, the Cathedral is located less than 150m from the conveniently named metro station “Vieux Lyon – Cathédrale Saint-Jean” (Metro line D) in a largely pedestrianised zone.
Address: Place Saint-Jean, 69005 Lyon
Opening hours: 8:15am to 7:45pm. Monday – Friday, 8:15am – 7:00pm Saturday, 8:00am – 7:00pm Sunday
Prices: The entrance is free.