A little history of Saint-Martin-d'Ainay basilica in Lyon

The basilicaThe basilica | ©Phinou / CC-BY-SA

Ainay abbey

A mysterious name

Ainay? Until the Middle-Ages, Athanacum was an island, mentioned as insula Athanaco in the 12th century. Rich merchants, especially wine traders, lived here.

But what does Athanaco (future Ainay) mean? Mystery... Maybe it’s a Greek word, athanatos, meaning "immortal", referring to Christians martyred in Lyon in 177?

Maybe Athanacum refers to a kind of high school where philosophers came to discuss in Lyon? Or maybe, it comes from the Celtic word athan, which means "stream"...

A powerful abbey

I told you about martyrs: well, we found, on the foundation of the current church, a crypt dedicated to saint Blandine and her 48 Christians friends who were killed by Romans in Lyon.

In 330, a hermit named Badulphe raised a chapel on this crypt. Destroyed by Hans at the end of the 4th century, re-raised by bishop Salone in 450 and dedicated to saint Martin, Saracens came and destroyed everything, one more time! So bishop Aurélien rebuilt it in 830.

Then a priory was founded, the future abbey. In 954, archbishop of Lyon Amblard raised the current church, consecrated in 1106 by bishop Gauceraud and pope Pascal II. Strict rule of St-Benoit was instituted at the end of the 12th century, because monks needed some order in their dissolute lives!

Strict rule: work, prayers... OK! But in the Middle-Ages, the monastery also became very rich! Monks owned several lands and priories (more than 70) in Lyon area but also everywhere in France and even abroad. The abbey even had its own printing office, in the 16th century!

At that time, the abbey was composed of the church and religious buildings, the entire estate surrounded by big fortified walls. To the north, the cloister. To the East, buildings flanked by vast gardens. To the West, the abbot palace.

But a part of this was destroyed by Protestants in 1562... They stole the church’s treasure (several relics as for instance Virgin Mary’s hairs or saint Badulphe’s body).

Saint-Martin church

In 1685, the Benedictine community was replaced by canons. The abbey was converted into a barn during the Revolution, then architect Pollet was put in charge of the restoration, in 1829: a pretty big upheaval, which consisted of a replacement of the brick vault and the wooden skeleton.

Oh, look at that: did you notice those big columns supporting the vaults? They come from the old temple of Rome and Augustus, the most famous Roman monument in Lyon! Now, look at Sainte-Blandine crypt: the mosaic on the soil dates back to 1855. Here, Blandine's last remains were buried...

Now, here’s the apse (19th century), with the nice fresco made by Hippolyte Flandrin, from Lyon, in 1855. Maybe you’ll recognize Jesus in the middle: his mother Mary introduced him Blandine and Clotilde. On the left, we have saint Pothin and saint Martin.

You may also notice the nice altar made by Parisian goldsmith Placide Poussielgue-Rusand based on drawing by Charles-Auguste Questel, architect of the Historical monuments: he is made of golden cooper, inspired by the altar of Basel cathedral (Germany, 13th century)!