SWISS PAGES (3)
WATCHING OUT FOR FIRES…
(Story of “Le Guet de la Cathédrale de Lausanne”)
GERTRUDE ATTAR, UNCTAD
One peaceful summer night, I happened to
stroll in front of the Switzerland’s largest
church, the Cathedral of Our Lady in Lausanne.
While I contemplated the very fine
sculptured decoration, I suddenly heard
somebody shouting high above me. Very curious,
I listened, and there it rang again from
the bell tower : “C’est le guet, il a sonné dix”
(“This is the night watch, the hour has struck
Asking some passers-by, I was told that I had just encountered a 600 year-old tradition. Ever since the devastating fire of 1405 which wiped out a great part of the city, the citizens are being reminded to watch out for a possible fire. This nightly ritual takes place every full hour from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., from all four sides of the surrounding wall of the bell tower, North, South, East, and West, be it summer or winter, 365 days a year. I was stunned.
As in many other medieval cities, Lausanne instituted a night watch to sound the alert in the event of disaster, ensuring that there were no fires and that no enemies were approaching. This might seem a bit futile today, when we live a computer-controlled lifestyle in an age of smoke detectors and central heating.
It appears that Lausanne is the only European city to continue this tradition with a watchman who proudly provides his valuable services on an honorary basis. On his climb of 153 steps to reach his vantage point some 75 metres up in the tower under the bronze bell weighing 6.6 tons, he meets with birds and bats. A small cosy shack, built only 60 years ago, furnished with table, telephone, radio and television protects him against wind and weather. He is happy under the light of a small reading lamp, surfing websites on his laptop. Sometimes he receives visitors taking them on a tour of the tower and acquainting them with some outstanding features of the church such as the largest Swiss organ with 7000 pipes or its rose window with 78 original, 13th-century glass pieces. Depending on the visibility, the view is fabulous, stretching over Lake Geneva, the glittering cities of Evian and Geneva and the far-reaching Alps.
(With thanks to Lausanne Tourism for providing graciously the photos of the Lausanne Cathedral and of “Le Guet de la Cathédrale de Lausanne”)