Little histories about Saint-Just church in Lyon

The churchThe church | ©Alorange / CC-BY-SA

The church of Maccabees

The church was, says the tradition, rebuilt and consecrated 5 times: in the 4th century by Vocius; in the 5th century by Patient; in the 9th century by saint Rémi; in the 13th century by pope Innocent IV; in the 16th century by archbishop Pierre d’Epinac.

Let’s have a look on the façade, now... We have a sentence, on the pediment: Primo Macchabeis deinde sancto Justo, which means the church was first dedicated to the Maccabees then to saint Just.

Originally, bishop saint Patient founded a church on the foundations of an old crypt dedicated to 7 brothers and their mother, who were martyred: a story coming from the East, very popular in the West since the Middle Ages.

But they had just brought saint Just’s relics back from Egypt, in Lyon...

Just, 13th bishop of the city in the 4th century, died as a hermit in the Egyptian desert. Saint Patient dedicated the church to him.

Destroyed by Barbarians, they rebuilt a bigger basilica, with marble and white stones coming from the former Gallo-Roman city, Lugdunum.

A long story full of events

Saint-Just was the first cathedral in Lyon. Did you know several events took place here?

Popes and kings of France often came here. Pope Clément V was crowned in 1305; Philip the Fair and his court went here. This king destroyed the fortified wall which surrounded the church, because archbishop of Lyon, Pierre of Savoy, rebelled against his power.

Well, Saint-Just just looked like a real fortress, at that time! A kind of big fortified castle with crenelated walls, flanked by about 20 square towers and several drawbridges.

Pope Innocent IV was also persecuted by German emperor Frederic II, so he took shelter in the cloister in order to gather a council, in 1245. His goal? To excommunicate the Teuton! He also gave a golden rose set with diamonds to the canons.

A nice flower preserved from Protestants' fury, but which disappeared during the French Revolution...

I told you several kings and queens often came here: saint Louis in 1248 on his way to Aigues-Mortes; Louis XI in 1483; François I in 1515, with his wife Claude and his mother Louise of Savoy...

From wars of Religion... until today

The cloister was plundered by Protestants, during a dark night of April 30th 1562... Then they demolished walls and stole things, even melted bells... and two carpenters took all the stones of the church.

Indeed, there were lots of treasures, destroyed by Protestants or by revolutionaries: a golden reliquary given by king Louis XI; the chest-reliquary of saint Just, covered with precious gems...

Canons had to re-raise the church. But not in the same place! Bad memories haunted the place.

But above all, they wanted to rebuild it inside the city's fortified walls, to be safe (the previous basilica was outside the wall, so very vulnerable).

They raised the foundations further, from 1565: the building site ended one century later, in 1662. In the beginning of the 18th century, the church had no facade: architect Delamonce added the current one in 1705.