Saint-Saphorin. Foto/Photo: TES

The Church and (Roman) History of Saint-Saphorin

Saint-Saphorin’s (canton of Vaud) history begins in the mid-1st century AD with the construction of a Gallo-Roman villa not far from Vibiscum (present-day Vevey).

By the 5th century, the villa was abandoned. One of the rooms, located on the site of the current 16th-century church, was then converted into a mausoleum modelled on Roman catacombs.

Museum of Saint-Saphorin in the catacombs under the church

In the 6th century, a new mausoleum was used as a burial chapel. In the 7th century, it was converted into a church dedicated to Saint-Saphorin (St Symphorien).

The bishop and chapter of Lausanne exercised spiritual authority and political sovereignty until 1536. In the 13th century, the bishops built the fortress of Glérolles.

Saint Saphorin in 1694. Anonymous artist. Archives de la commune. Photo: Claude Bornand. Museum of Saint Saphorin

The current church was built in Gothic style between 1517 and 1530 on the initiative of the last bishop of Lausanne, Sébastien de Montfaucon (1489-1560). The central stained-glass window in the choir is the most important in the canton (after the rose window in Lausanne Cathedral). It depicts Sebastian of Montfaucon, the Virgin Mary with Child, and Saint Symphorien.

The exterior is particularly notable for the bell tower’s flat roof, as it was intended (but not realised) to build a tall stone spire on the tower.

In 1536, Bishop Sébastien de Montfaucon organised resistance in Lavaux to the threat of iconoclasm from Protestant Bern. The resistance was so strong that this window was spared, although the church became a (Protestant) temple.

Saint-Saphorin has retained its medieval character and lies amid Lavaux’s vineyards overlooking the Alps and Lake Geneva.

(Source and further information: La commune de Saint-Saphorin)


The museum of Saint-Saphorin

Three Capitals from the Carolingian era (9th century)

Head of a young adult. Roman era

Roman inscriptions of a soldier (above) and on an altar (below), 1st century AD

Impressions of Saint-Saphorin 

Pierre Keller (1945), Wine press