Lausanne, la chapelle de Tell. Photo: Lars Kophal

The Tell Chapel in Lausanne

The chapel of William Tell in Lausanne is not a chapel. It does not have relics of the national hero Wilhelm Tell, who (when he existed anyway) never visited Lausanne. Moreover, the chapel was not founded by a Swiss but by the Frenchman Osiris.

Although it is not a chapel, and there are three chapels in Switzerland – in the religious sense – dedicated to Wilhelm Tell in the canton of Uri (in Sisikon and Bürglen) and Schwyz (in Küssnacht), the one in Lausanne is unique.

The chapel was the idea and project of Daniel Iffla (1825-1907), a wealthy Parisian banker who obtained the right to add “Osiris” to his name by imperial decree in 1861.

Daniel Iffla-Osiris. Photo: Wikipedia

The French author Pierre Assouline describes him in his book Le dernier des Camondo (Paris, 1999) as

the prototype of the modern patron and a man of projects (…). His philanthropic obsession stemmed from the Jewish tradition of tzedaka (charity), republican values and the desire to draw attention to his fortune“. ((le prototype du mécène moderne doublé d’un homme d’œuvres (…). Son obsession philanthropique procédait à la fois de la tradition juive de la tsedaka (charité), des valeurs républicaines et de l’irrépressible désir d’étaler sa fortune).

In 1902, Osiris had already financed the statue of Wilhelm Tell, in front of the steps of the Palais de Justice in Montbenon in Lausanne, in gratitude for the hospitable reception of Bourbaki’s army in 1871.

On his death, he left the city a large sum to construct a synagogue and a chapel in memory of the national hero. The architect Georges Epiteaux (1873-1957), also responsible for the Galeries Saint-François in Lausanne, and the painter Ernest Biéler (1863-1948) realised the project.

William Tell. Photo: Ville de Lausanne

Palais de Justice. Photo:

The chapel was inaugurated in 1917 while the First World War (1914-1918) raged in Europe. As a precaution, the frescoes in the chapel were moved to the hall of the Palace of Justice, the seat of the Swiss Supreme Court (Tribunal fédéral/Bundesgericht).

Therefore, a Wilhelm Tell statue and a chapel, which is not a chapel, stand in Lausanne, and frescoes of the legendary hero embellish the Palace of Justice, commissioned by a French citizen.

Lars Kophal, editor and journalist 

The Tell Chapel in Bürglen

The Tell Chapel near Sisikon 

The Tell Chapel and the Hohle Gasse near Küssnacht

Friedrich Schiller, Wilhelm Tell (1804), “zum Neujahrsgeschenk auf 1805”. Informationstelle Küssnacht

The  Gessler Castle (die Gesslerburcht)