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LAUSANNE has such a peculiar history that it is difficult to understand, without study, some of the customs that still prevailed in the society in which Gibbon moved. To comprehend the birth and subsequent fortunes of La Grotte, also, it is essential to ascertain the peculiar ecclesiastical origin and conditions of Lausanne; and nothing is more curious than to see how religious was the rise and progress of the place which the historian selected as his home.
In pursuit of this task, I took up my residence on the borders of the lake, and advanced from point to point as my researches progressed. I made the acquaintance of all those persons who could afford me information either in Savoy or in the Pays de Vaud, and moved from one historical point to another, examining the archives and exhausting the family traditions until my field of investigation was fairly covered.
The materials for my work eventually embraced one hundred and twenty volumes of unpublished manuscripts—including the writings of some of the most celebrated personages of the last century. To these were added a large number of journals containing notes of my conversation with people of every class, and descriptions of interesting monuments and customs; also an especial collection of more than two thousand five hundred volumes, the greater part of which relate entirely to Lake Leman and its surroundings, and are so completely out of print as to render them almost as valuable as unpublished papers. To this list I must add the results of my own studies of churches, cathedrals, castles, roads, and other mediæval monuments, together with the many portraits, views, and silhouettes, which I have exhumed.
After the ruin of the classic Lousonne, the surviving inhabitants retired from the immediate neighbourhood of the lake called the Lake of Lousonne by Antoninus-and took up their residence about three miles from the shore, on the site of the present city, beneath the forest-clad summits of Sauva-belin,
or Sylva Belini-i.e. the Wood of Belinus—where the Druids had worshipped that deity and practised their mysteries long before the coming of our Saviour.
Towards the close of the sixth century, Christian Lausanne had already attained importance and renown from a chapel dedicated to the Holy Virgin, which, it is believed, stood on the height now occupied by the splendid cathedral of Notre Dame. Thither flocked pilgrims from far and near, and to the Virgin’s influence old chroniclers trace the commencement and confirmation of the city's prosperity. The popularity of her shrine gave the impetus to Lausanne's fortunes, and was the ultimate cause of the transfer thither from Avenches of the episcopal seat.
Avenches, the ancient capital of Helvetia, was once a Roman colony, endowed with a constitution like the Italian towns accorded by the Emperor Vespasian—son of the banker of the
Gibbon says Vespasian was of mean birth : His grandfather had been a private soldier, his father a petty officer of the revenue. His own merit had raised him, in an advanced age, to the Empire.'— Milman, Gibbon's Roman Empire, i. 212. Martignier and De Crousaz, in their Dictionnaire Historique du Canton de Vaud, under the article · Avenches,' pp. 42 and 43, declare that Vespasian was born at Avenches, where his father carried on the bank, and found the assertion upon the declaration of Suetonius, liber viii. 1. It will be seen that Suetonius does not sustain the first, though he affirms the second, fact. He says: Sabinus fonus exercuit apud Helvetios, ibique diem obiit, superstitibus uxore Vespasia Polla, et duobus ex ea liberis : quorum major Sabinus ad præfecturam urbis, minor ad principatum usque processit.'—Suet. lib. viii. 1.
Monsieur Daguet, in his Histoire de la Confédération Suisse, i. 32, says: Vespasien n'était pas né à Aventicum, mais son père Sabinus avait vécu bien des années dans cette ville, où il faisait la banque et où il finit ses jours. Reconnaissant des bons procédés dont son père avait été l'objet chez les Helvètes, et peut-être aussi de leur fidélité pour Galba, Vespasien commença par éloigner la Légion Rapace, et la remplaça par la légion xime, appelée Fidèle (Claudia pia fidelis). Ce prince s'empressa ensuite de rebâtir Aventicum, qui avait souffert dans la guerre de Cécina, et la peupla d'une colonie flavienne. Une population nombreuse se presse dans son enceinte agrandie, embellie de somptueux édifices et flanquée de 80 à 90 tours. Des colonnes milliaires reliaient tout le territoire des Helvètes à la métropole.'
In a note to this passage M. Daguet says: 'D'après Suétone, dont le texte dit positivement exercuit fænus, M. Vulliemin (Histoire de la Confédération Suisse, p. 33) se trompe en attribuant à Sabinus les fonctions de percepteur général qu'il avait exercées en Asie, où on lui érigea des statues avec cette inscription en Grec : "Au receveur intègre : (RAANE TEANNHEANTI.”—Sué. tone, i.).'
In his History of the Roman Empire (i. 212 n.), Gibbon says: "The Emperor Vespasian, with his usual good sense, laughed at the genealogists, who deduced his family from Flavius, the founder of Reate (his native country), and one of the companions of Hercules' (Suet. in Vesp. c. 12).
In its issue of Saturday, April 17, 1880, the Feuille d'Avis of Lausanne says: “The municipality, who had thanked by letter Prince Torlonia at Rome
town, says Suetonius—who, moreover, surrounded the city by massive walls, defended it by semicircular towers, adorned it with a capitol, a theatre, a forum, and granted it jurisdiction over the outlying dependencies of Lausanne, Moudon, Yverdon, and Soleure.
To-day, plantations of tobacco cover the forgotten streets of Avenches, and a single Corinthian column, with its crumbling arcade, remains to tell of former grandeur. But during many centuries it was the flourishing centre of the most populous part of the Roman country' (still so called) of Helvetia. Christianity early placed its seal upon this magnificent city, and spiritual rule succeeded to the government that ancient Rome had established. Bishops guided its affairs, but could not control its destinies ; accumulated misfortunes finally drove them forth to seek another centre.
In the year 610, the Allemanni, who had sacked the place in the third century, utterly destroyed Avenches, and reduced the surrounding district to a wilderness, long known under the name of Uechtland—desert-country. Avenches fell, but Lausanne inherited her ecclesiastical power and her spiritual dignities, and became the active centre of a great diocese. Her bishop was one of the richest and most powerful princes of Helvetia. Under the Transjuran kings, he was nominated by the clergy and by the people, in accordance with the ancient Gaulish custom. Later, his election was confined to the chapter of Notre Dame, whose choice was ratified by Papal sanction.
The long line of illustrious bishops were taken from the greatest families of the land, such as the de Grandsons, de Champvents, de Cossonays, d'Estavayers, and de Prangins. Even members of the sovereign houses of Kibourg, Neuchâtel, Faucigny, and Savoy pressed eagerly forward to obtain the coveted mitre.
The bishops professed to be the delegates of the Virgin herself, and the city and its environs are recognised in the most ancient acts as her peculiar province. for the gift of the busts of Vespasian and Titus to the Museum of Avenches, has received from the Prince a very friendly letter congratulating the authorities of that town on the care which they display in keeping alive in the hearts of the inhabitants the memory of those of her children who have done honour to this ancient city.'