Although cathedrals in Switzerland are some of the most breathtaking in Western Europe, Switzerland may best be known for attractions in the Swiss Alps, like the Matterhorn and other famous skiing sites, or perhaps for the 600 some castles that pepper the Swiss countryside in grand fashion. Oftentimes the cathedrals in Switzerland are overlooked, even as they are some of the most elaborate and ornate attractions in all of Europe. As tourists exploring Switzerland travel through the culturally diverse cantons of the country, they can discover the Swiss cathedrals, which offer a glimpse inside the rich, religious traditions from Italy, France, Germany, and other areas of Europe.
The Lausanne Cathedral is one of the most impressive of all the Swiss cathedrals, and is considered by many to be the most famous work of Gothic architecture in Switzerland. Construction began in the late twelfth century and the cathedral was consecrated by Pope Gregory X in 1275. The cathedral is located near Lake Geneva in the alpine town of Lausanne. Tourists traveling to the small village to see the cathedral will find a most ornate façade with high towers, flying buttresses, and stained glass. Some of the famous features of the nearly 1,000-year-old Lausanne cathedral include the Montfalcon Portal, which is a massive, decorative doorway leading into the church, and the Great Porch, a large outdoor courtyard with elaborate statues and frescoes lining the walls. The Lausanne Cathedral is a standout feature of this lakeside town in Romandy, a French-speaking part of the country, bordering France and residing on the banks of Lake Geneva.
Many different styles of architecture are on display at the various cathedrals in Switzerland. An interesting and distinguishing feature of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva, is that a whole host of architectural styles are represented, all in the same church. Archaeological findings have confirmed that the cathedral has been around since the fourth century. In the long history of St. Peter’s, this Geneva cathedral has undergone several architectural changes as it transitioned from its early Catholic affiliation rooted in fourth-century Rome, to its later Protestant ties. The architecture is largely Romanesque-Gothic, but has neo-classical elements as well, including the outer façade.
Although the outside is a mixture of architectural conventions that may, from some angles, not be the most aesthetically pleasing, when you actually go inside, it is a completely different story. At one time the grand interior of the cathedral was adorned with giant murals, but when the Calvinists moved in around 1536, their puritanical leanings left little tolerance for this elaborate and ornate cathedral. Most of the murals and frescoes were whitewashed and few remnants of the Roman Catholic influence in this cathedral remain. Even in spite of this, St. Peter’s in Geneva remains one of the most spectacular Swiss cathedrals in all of Switzerland. The Gothic and Romanesque pillars, reliefs, towers, and spires are inspiring upon first glance.
The sheer length of time that this great construct has survived makes it one of the most historic cathedrals in Switzerland. It is interesting to note that John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant reform, preached from the pulpit at the Geneva cathedral for almost 30 years (from 1536 to 1564). The cathedral became something of a guidepost for the Protestant Reformation around this time, and remains a spectacular and most popular tourist attraction for visitors heading to this charming part of Switzerland.
And travelers looking to make a trip to Switzerland should know that many such cathedrals, castles, and other attractions are located all along the countryside in this charming, and culturally-diverse European country.