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St. Jean Cathedral

See the remarkable 600-year-old astronomical clock that chimes in this long-standing religious monument.

Standing proud in the center of Lyon, St. Jean Cathedral is a mishmash of architectural styles, with a Gothic nave and façade and a Romanesque apse and choir. Come to admire its eclectic collection of design features, which range from the traditional 13th-century stained-glass windows and Gothic masonry to the atypical astronomical clock.

The cathedral, which is also known as the Lyon Cathedral, was built over the course of around 300 years, beginning in the 12th century. The lengthy construction period, combined with later renovations and remodels, has resulted in an array of contrasting architectural styles. Despite the lack of harmony, the structure is nevertheless beautiful.

Before venturing inside the cathedral, examine the exterior, which features typical Gothic church elements including flying buttresses. The west façade is completed in the Flamboyant Gothic style and the portals here are decorated with hundreds of stone medallions. Look closely at them and you’ll see they depict scenes from the Zodiac, the creation and the life of St. John. 

Enter the cathedral and look for the gorgeous stained-glass windows in the choir and the attractive Gothic window tracery in the side chapels. Seek out the north transept to find the cathedral’s star attraction: the astronomical clock. 

The cathedral’s astronomical clock has been tracking the passing time since the 14th century. Look up at its central tower, which is home to several automated figures, including a Virgin Mary, an angel, a dove and a Swiss guard. Listen for the sound of mechanical bells chiming and roosters crowing during your visit. If you time your visit to coincide with the turn of the hour at noon, 2 p.m., 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., you’ll get to hear its unique chime and see the mechanical spectacle in motion. 

St. Jean Cathedral is located in the heart of old Lyon, just a short walk from the Saône River. To get there by public transportation, ride the metro to the Vieux Lyon stop. The cathedral is open daily and entrance is free. Mass is held on Sunday mornings and tourists are discouraged from visiting during this time.


Guide to Exploring Lyon Cathedral


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