Lyon, France : Fourvière et Saint-Jean reflecting in the Saône river

Though they might seem to be competing, Saint-Jean Baptiste and Notre-Dame de Fourvière are rather complementary in the Lyonnais landscape. They somehow tell the singular history of Lyon.


Lyon, France, Fourvière and Saint-Jean
Lyon, France : Fourvière and Saint-Jean reflecting in the Saône river at sunrise*

Most visitors, and even Lyonnais sometimes, mistake Fourvière for the cathedral of Lyon, Saint-Jean Baptiste (Saint John the Baptist). While it is true that Notre-Dame de Fourvière sticks out the most, with its immaculate white glowing in the distance when the sun is up in the clear blue sky, still, Saint-Jean Baptiste cathedral remains the seat of the Archbishop of Lyon. Its ancient stone walls and quite austere architecture refuse to give up their preeminence to the more modern and now symbolic Basilica of Fourvière.

Saint-Jean Baptiste cathedral construction began in 1175, and stretched to 1480. Therefore, more than three centuries, and ten generations of Lyonnais, were necessary to build what’s today the cathedral of Lyon. It was first named Saint-Etienne (Saint-Stephan), but quickly took the name of its baptistery, Saint-Jean Baptiste. The cathedral used to be surrounded by two minor churches, Sainte-Croix and Saint-Etienne, which were destroyed during the French Revolution. Its architecture is a mix of roman and gothic styles, which reminds the visitors of the long time it took to build the monument, during which France and Lyon in particular went from Roman to Gothic architecture. Saint-Jean Baptiste witnessed many crucial events of Lyon’s history : it was severely damaged in 1562 when the protestants, led by the infamous Baron des Adrets, came down from the Alps and pillaged the whole city, destroying the luxurious ornaments of the Catholic churches of the city. It also suffered the bombings of the Revolution wars, when Lyon uprose against the Parisian led Convention Nationale. In the 19th century, the carpentry of the cathedral was elevated, and the rooftop covered with slate. However, the decision was made to come back to the original architecture of the carpentry, and tiles replaced the stales. Today, the austerity of Saint-Jean Baptiste is the testimony of the tumultuous history of Lyon.

Notre-Dame de Fourvière is quite the opposite of Saint-Jean Batiste. With its dominating situation up Fourvière hill, its immaculate white walls and its original architecture, it vividly contrasts with Saint-Jean Baptiste, which sits in the Vieux Lyon district, near the river, at one of the lowest places of Lyon. Notre-Dame de Fouvière is quite recent : its construction stretched from 1872 to 1884. Since 1643, the place has been a place of pilgrimage to thank Saint-Mary for saving Lyon from the plague in the beginning of the 17th century. In 1852, a golden statue of Saint-Mary was raised at the top of Fourvière church, which sits south of the Basilica. The pilgrimage therefore became more important, and the decision was made to build a Basilica to welcome the numerous pilgrims. The construction wasn’t easy, and is even unfinished. Indeed, it began at the fall of the Second Empire, and at the beginning of the 3rd Republic, which was clearly anticlerical. However, it has since become the main symbol of Lyon, and the highest building of the city, only rivalled by the spire of the Incity Tower, which was inaugurated two years ago.

Though they might seem to be competing, Saint-Jean Baptiste and Notre-Dame de Fourvière are rather complementary in the Lyonnais landscape. Seen from the Saône river, they both make quite a splendid view, and somehow tell the singular history of Lyon, its initial construction around the Saône river, its revolts, the plague, and the devotion to Saint-Mary which led its inhabitants to build the magnificent basilica at the top of Fourvière Hill.

* Shot with a Sony A6000 and a Zeiss 24f1.8 at ISO100, f5.0 and 1/160. 4 images stitched together in Adobe Lightroom 6.5

2 thoughts on “Lyon, France : Fourvière et Saint-Jean reflecting in the Saône river

    1. Thanks ! It’s a pleasure to know you liked both the picture and the article. Though my blog is mainly about photography, I also try to give a bit more than that by adding some thoughts or stories about my pictures, so I’m glad you say you’ve appreciated it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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