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Historical Religious Buildings Tour 1 (Self Guided), Lyon

Up until the 19th century, 98% of Lyon residents were Catholics. Because religion had such a profound influence on Lyon locals, many beautiful and unique places of worship can be found in the city to this day. Take this tour to discover some of Lyon's most fascinating and historic religious buildings.
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Historical Religious Buildings Tour 1 Map

Guide Name: Historical Religious Buildings Tour 1
Guide Location: France » Lyon (See other walking tours in Lyon)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: jenny
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Saint-Irénée Church
  • Saint-Just
  • Saint-Georges Church
  • Saint-Martin d'Ainay
  • Saint-François de Sales
  • Eglise Saint-Bonaventure
Saint-Irénée Church

1) Saint-Irénée Church

Saint Irénée Church is a very simple building, but it has a long and interesting history and is well worth a visit.

The first church was dedicated to Saint John in the 1st century AD. Irenaeus was born in Asia Minor and became a priest under the first bishop of Lyon. When the bishop, St Pothius, was martyred during an uprising in the city, Irenaeus became bishop in his place.

He was a pious, scholarly man, writing against the Gnostics (an early Christian sect) and arguing about the date of Easter. He died in 202 AD and was buried in St John’s Church. Some Christian scholars say that St Irénée was martyred, but there is no proof of this.

The church was rebuilt in the 10th century with a crypt for St Irénée. The church was renamed at that time. The church and the crypt were destroyed by Protestants during the War of Religion in 1562. The high part of the building was restored in 1584 and the crypt in 1635.

Outside the church you will see the only remaining “Calvary” in a French city. The three crosses, bearing Christ and the two thieves, with the statues of three women at the foot of the cross were created in 1687.

During the French Revolution the church was used as a grain store. It and the crypt were renovated in 1863. Three Roman tombs were uncovered during archaeological digs in 2000 near the church and have been placed in the crypt.

2) Saint-Just

Saint Just is the reconstruction of one of the oldest churches in Lyon and is a rather lovely church standing in a small square, created by two building put up on either side of it in the 19th century.

The original Basilica of Saint Just was built at about 200 meters from today’s church. The basilica was built over a Roman mausoleum in the 1st century AD. Over the centuries it was rebuilt three times: the first church had three naves; a transept and galleries were added to it in the 10th century and in the 13th century the church was rebuilt once more in the Romanesque style with an imposing bell tower and several chapels.

The basilica was destroyed in the War of Religion in the 16th century and work began almost immediately on the new church. Mass was celebrated there on Christmas Eve in 1565, but then work slowed down. The Sanctuary was dedicated in 1591 and the rest of the building was finished in 1663.

Today’s facade was built in the 18th century by Delamonce in the Neo-Classical style. The stalls and the pulpit were installed at the same time. On the walls you will see portraits of the bishops who had been interred in the ancient basilica.

There is a good collection of paintings by French artists, including “Annunciation” by de Vermont and “Nativity” by Taraval. The stained glass windows, depicting scenes from the life of Saint Just and early Christian Lyon, were installed in the 18th century.

The site of the original basilica was the object of several archaeological digs over the years and is now open to the public as an archaeological garden.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Saint-Georges Church

3) Saint-Georges Church

You shouldn’t miss visiting St Georges’ Church which stands on the banks of the Saône in the Vieux Quartier of Lyon.

The first church to stand on this site was built in 550 and destroyed in 732 by invading Saracens. It was rebuilt in 802 and when the Commandery of the Order of Malta was built alongside in 1315, the church was given to the Order.

Like so many churches in France, during the Revolution it was used as a hay barn, to prove that the people needed fodder for their animals more than religion. This was a sort of rude gesture towards the Vatican, whose bishops were considered to be the main corrupters of the monarchy and the nobility.

Luckily, it didn’t follow in the footsteps of other churches that were destroyed during that time, and it was restored in 1869 by Bossan in the Neo-Gothic style. He also made most of the furniture. The facade was sculpted by Dufraine and the stained-glass windows were created by the Marechal de Metz.

In 1892 it was renovated by Pollet and the beautiful steeple on top of the bell-tower was added. The main portal is huge, but the facade facing the river is the best side of the church, with its many arched windows and twin balconies.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Saint-Martin d'Ainay

4) Saint-Martin d'Ainay

Saint Martin d’Ainay is one of the rare Romanesque churches in Lyon and it has a long and interesting history.

A Benedictine priory was built on this site in 859, and the church was constructed when the priory became an abbey in 1107.

During the Renaissance period the abbey was one of the most powerful in France, having pre-eminence over other abbeys, priories and churches from Bourgogne to Provence. It had its own port, extensive buildings with a cloister and the abbot lived in a palace.

The abbey suffered heavy damage during the War of Religion in 1562: the cloister was razed to the ground and the church all but destroyed. By the end of the 17th century, it was no longer a monastery and the church and buildings were given to a secular chapter in 1685.

In 1780 it became a parish church and lost its status as an abbey. During the Revolution it was used, as were many other churches, as a grain store and the abbot’s palace was destroyed.

You will notice various styles of architecture in the church: the ancient Chapel of Saint Blandine is in the pre-Romanesque style, the main part of the building is Romanesque and the Chapel of Saint Michel is Gothic.

The nave is the most intriguing part of the church, with its 4th century columns, which gives the church an especially ancient look. These columns came from the ruins of a Roman temple and used during the construction of the church.

The nave’s vaulted ceiling and the two side chapels dedicated to St Joseph (on the left side of the nave) and the Virgin (on the right) were constructed in the 19th century.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Saint-François de Sales

5) Saint-François de Sales

St François de Sales Church attracts thousands of tourists every year because of its magnificent pipe organ, but the building itself is well worth a visit.

The church was built by Dulin and Benoit in the 19th century in the Romanesque style, on the site of the Couvent des Filles Penitantes et la Maison des Recluses.

The interior is rather austere, but the frescoes by Dennelle and the stained glass window depicting scenes from the life of St François de Sales are particularly lovely.

The main attraction, of course is the organ by Cavaillé-Colle which replaced an eighteen thirties organ. In 1880 Cavaillé-Colle suggested installing an organ on the ground-floor level with its casing rising to the vaulted ceiling. This was an innovative suggestion at the time, but the idea was eventually accepted and the result can be admired by everyone to this day.

St François de Sales was renowned and respected as a good and gentle man. Named Bishop of Geneva in 1602, he remained, nevertheless, a good friend of the poor, and his book “Introduction to the Devout Life”, published in 1609, was aimed at laypeople – which was very unusual at the time.

In 1622 he accompanied the Duke of Savoy on his “Christmas tour” of his lands to distribute alms to the poor. While the duke and his retinue wined and dined in style, St François spent the night in the gardener’s hut on the grounds of the convent of the Order of the Visitation of Saint Mary – an order he had founded in 1610 with St Jane de Chantal.

During the night the good man died of a stroke and although the people of Lyon wanted him to be buried in the city, his body was transported to Annecy, where he was interred in privacy.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Eglise Saint-Bonaventure

6) Eglise Saint-Bonaventure

The Eglise Saint Bonaventure is the only medieval church to survive the construction of the rue Impériale (now the rue de la République).

The original church was part of a Franciscan monastery and when a large crowd gathered for the funeral of Cardinal Bonaventure in 1274, they couldn’t all get into the church.

Jacques de Grolée, the grandson of the seneschal who had granted the site to the monks, decided that a bigger church was needed, but work didn’t start on it until 1325.

Finished in 1327, the new church faced south, which was unheard of at the time, as all churches faced east to catch the first rays of light – and, according to ancient superstition to chase the Devil out of the building at dawn.

Jacques de Grolée died before the church was finished and he was buried there, under the main altar.

In 1484 the building was enlarged once more and renamed after the 13th century cardinal. During the French Revolution the church suffered the indignity of being used as a grain store, but at least it survived and was restored in 1806 by Joseph Fesch.

The church boasts 18 chapels, nine on the east and west sides of the nave and a fine stained glass window depicting Saint Remigius baptizing Clovis I.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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