Basilique Ste-Madeleine

Basilique Ste-Madeleine information

Lonely Planet review

Founded in the 880s on a former Roman and then Carolingian site, Basilique Ste-Madeleine has had a turbulent history. Rebuilt between the 11th and 13th centuries, it was trashed by the Huguenots in 1569, desecrated during the Revolution and, to top off the human ravages, repeatedly struck by lightning. By the mid-1800s it was on the point of collapse. In 1840 the architect Viollet-le-Duc undertook the daunting task of rescuing the structure. His work, which included reconstructing the western façade and its doorways, helped Vézelay, previously a ghost town, spring back to life.

On the famous 12th-century tympanum , visible from the narthex (enclosed porch), Romanesque carvings show Jesus seated on a throne, radiating his holy spirit to the Apostles. The nave , rebuilt following the great fire of 1120, has round arches and detailed capitals, typical features of the Romanesque style; the transept and choir (1185) have ogival arches, hallmarks of Gothic architecture. Under the transept a mid-12th-century crypt houses a reliquary containing what is believed to be one of Mary Magdalene's bones.

Visitors are welcome to observe prayers or Mass. Concerts of sacred music are held in the nave from June to September; the tourist office and its website have details.