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Cathédrale St-Lazare, Autun (Burgundy)


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Cathédrale St-Lazare, Autun - Main Page (this page)



Romanesque West Portal and Tympanum



Medieval Narrative Capitals in the Nave



Labours of the Month and Signs of the Zodiac - January to May



Medieval Narrative Capitals in the Chapter House



Labours of the Month and Signs of the Zodiac - June to December



Musée Rolin and Gislebertus' Eve




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Link to Sacred Destinations page on Autun



Link to another photo rich web page (in



Links to Basilique Ste-Madeleine (Vézelay) and Basilique St-Andoche (Saulieu)








Cathédrale St-Lazare from the south east



The Cathédral St-Lazare in Autun is reached through a beautiful road west from Beaune - firstly through "Premier Cru" country then rolling meadows and farmlands. 


The Cathedral was built between 1120 and 1146, the intention being to have a great church (it was not then the cathedral, which was next door and smaller) that would house the relics of St Lazarus (brother of Mary Magdalene) which the town had obtained in the late 900s.  This would, the idea went, become a focal point for pilgrims that would generate the same sort of moolah as was washing around neighbouring Vézelay where Lazarus's sister was (claimed to be). 


St-Lazare was consecrated by Pope Innocent II in 1130.







More photos of Gislebertus' Tympanum (1130-35), Lintel and Capitals in the West Portal



The present cathedral exterior (top photo) is dominated by gothic structures put up after a fire in the late 1400s and later "restored" by Viollet-le-Duc in the latter 1800s, but when you walk around to the west portal you come face to faces with one of the great surviving examples of  Romanesque sculpture in Europe.  Created (and, unusually, signed) by Gislebertus, who had previously worked at Vézelay, the tympanum (above) and its surrounds are awe inspiring. 


The existence of this masterpiece today is mainly down to the canons of 1766, who decided that the carvings were mediocre and childish, and covered everything in a thick layer of plaster adorned with unchildish decorative motives that looked very very ordinary.  1766 was the year in which the chancel of the Cathedral was remodelled, the tomb and remains of Lazarus were disappeared, and the North Portal structure (including the famous Eve) was sold to a local builder who wanted it for his new house, so the motives of the canons may have been more insightful than the story that guide book history has handed down.  One could also speculate that whereas Adam (still missing) and Eve would have been tasteful additions to any builder's house, the Last Judgement was far too disturbing (and big) to be considered for the same fate. 


Anyway, the end result was that the west end tympanum survived hidden and untouched through the remodelling years and then the angry revolutionary years of the late seventies and eighties, and it was only in 1837 that another canon was passing the time of day chipping away the plaster, when he discovered what proved to be an almost perfectly preserved original tympanum underneath - well, something like that anyway - though the Head of God was mysteriously missing. 


In the latter 1890s the still unrecognized Head of God found its way into the Rolin Museum.  Viollet-le-Duc, restorer of Vézelay (and later Notre Dame de Paris and St-Denis) who had moved down to have a go at Autun, actually sketched the head in the museum and made dismissive remarks about its parentage.  It took another 50 years and the determined work of choirmaster and curator Canon Denis Grivot to recognize the head for what it was, and he put it back where it belonged in 1948.  Grivot later put Autun and Gislebertus on the map with the publication of a pioneer book of photos and drawings of St-Lazare'e capitals and tympanum.  The book illustrated above is a descendant of this work.


Inside the cathedral, the Romanesque style is retained in the nave and aisles, and when your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you will start to see the second of the cathedral's Romanesque glories, the carved capitals.   Some of the better capitals were removed during the revamp of the apse / crossing area, and can now be seen up close and in good light in the upstairs chapter house in the south transept.  There are also a couple of capitals, including one showing an equestrian statue of a crowned figure - possibly representing Charlemagne - in better light in the apse.


It is also essential to visit the nearby Musée Rolin and see Gislebertus' "Temptation of Eve" which must surely rank as the most extraordinarily seductive sculpture of the middle ages.




Medieval Narrative Capitals in the Chapter House


Medieval Narrative Capitals in the Nave



Musée Rolin and Gislebertus' Eve







These are the Gemini Twins (Les Gémeaux) (Gemini - May 22 to June 21) - one of 27 roundels depicting the signs of the zodiac and typical seasonal activities, which are located in a semi-circle in the outer archivolt around the tympanum.


The original sculptures of the inner archivolt have disappeared and been replaced by the sculptural equivalent of "musak".



Links to close-ups of all the Autun Zodiac and seasonal activity roundels:


January to May


June top December





Link to Paradoxplace page on Medieval Illustrations of Labours of the Month, Zodiac Signs, Cardinal Virtues and Sins




The Romanesque Autun Cathedral nave is not as light as this photo makes it look, though there is plenty of natural and artificial light in the more recently built Gothic east end.





The dramatic fall of Simon "the (ex-) magician" Magus


Link to more photos of the medieval narrative capitals in the nave


Link to capitals in the chapter house


In contrast to Vezelay, the hand of a single sculptor, Gislebertus, dominates all of the capitals and other sculptures in the Autun's Cathédrale St-Lazare.  He must have been not just a fine and productive artist, but also an outstanding workshop team manager because there is much more than one "sculptor lifetime's" work there.





Labours of the Months and Signs of the Zodiac - Details of the Outer Archivolt Medallions


January to May (left hand side)     -     June to December (right hand side)





Cathédrale St-Lazare - north side.  The original portal contained another Gislebertus tympanum and his famous lintel carving of Eve, which is now in the Rolin Museum.  Guide books tell you that the portal was a victim of the French Revolution (1789).  The records show that it was sold in 1766 to a builder named Tacot, who used it to embellish his house at number 12 Rue de Lattre, where it was rediscovered during renovations exactly 100 years later and bought by the Abbé Terret, whence it eventually found its way into the Musée Rolin.





Gislebertus' "Temptation of Eve" which is in the Musée Rolin near the Cathédrale





Those who have visited Notre Dame de Paris will recognize this unmedieval medieval gargoyle as a signature of the latter 1800s restorer Viollet-le-Duc, who cut his teeth in Vézelay and Autun.



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