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Basilique Ste-Madeleine, Vézelay

West Burgundy


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The story of Vézelay and photos from our 2004 visit there



Photos from 2007 - main page (this page)



Vézelay's Tympanums and Narthex Sculptures



Vézelay's Medieval Narrative Capitals



Labours of the Month and Signs of the Zodiac at Vézelay







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Links to Cathédral St-Lazare (Autun) and Basilique St-Andoche (Saulieu)







Vezelay, Burgundy



The medieval pilgrimage church at the top of a hill (from the south east) - where the Second Crusade was launched, the forces of the Third Crusade were assembled, and Archbishop Thomas Becket excommunicated the courtiers of Henry II, the first Plantagenet King of England.





The Narthex is a very deep "room"  across the whole width of the church, and occupying the space between the external west facade of the building, and the west end of the church.  Originally it was used to assist in the accommodation of the hundreds of pilgrims that passed through Vézelay.  At the end of the 1700s it formed a partial protection from the revolutionary mobs for the church and its sculptures.  The original sculpting on the external west wall was destroyed.  



Narthex of Ste-Madeleine Basilica, Vezelay



The Narthex houses some of the most interesting surviving tympanums and portal sculptures of the Romanesque world.  The main tympanum has good artificial lighting, but it's not always on ... best to ask someone if they have access to the switch if this is the case, as it makes a big difference.


Link to more photos of the Tympanums and Portal sculptures in the Narthex



Trumeau Statue - Peter and Paul at Vezelay



Peter and Paul converse above the right door jam of the central portal entrance from the Narthex.



Vezelay, South Aisle Door and Tympanum


Vezelay - Floating Angel


An angel floats on the left door jam capital of the south west church portal (left).


More photos from the Narthex.



Vezelay - Zodiacs and Labours of the Month



In the outer archivolt of the main door, there are roundels with reliefs of the 12 zodiac, the relevant monthly labours and a few other subjects for good measure.  Here, from the "eleven o'clock position" are the loving Gemini Twins (Les Gémeaux, May 22 – June 21), a watchful reaper with non-round eyes, and Cancer the Crab (Le Cancer, June 22– July 22), who looks like a bit of a latecomer.


Labours of the Month and Signs of the Zodiac at Vézelay



Sunlight in the South Aisle of Ste-Madeleine, Vezelay



Walking through the south west door into the south aisle and a sea of capitals, including (third from left and below) Moses milling with Paul.  Unlike Autun, where Gislebertus either did or closely supervised all of the sculpting in the 1130s, Vezelay's capitals have a diverse provenance in terms of sculptors (none of whom are known by name) and timings.  It is interesting for the visitor to form their own views of artistic merit as they wander round.  Remember to bring binoculars to look at the higher level capitals in the nave.


Link to more photos of Vézelay's Narrative Capitals



Mystic Mill Capital - Paul and Moses at Vezelay


The Mystic Mill:  Moses (left) mills with Paul in the most famous of the 100 or so narrative capitals



Nave of the Basilique Ste-Madeleine, Vezelay



Vézelay - the light-filled nave of the Basilica,  There are narrative and decorative capitals on the east, west and outside of many of the columns of the nave, and on some of the columns in the walls of the aisles.  On the inside the capitals are higher up on the clerestory level - at the bases of the roof arches.  In all there are nearly 100 capitals, of which all but 8 are original.  There are more capitals in the narthex, but several of these are copies made in the 1800s. 


Depending on the weather and time of day, the level of natural light, like its pooling, leads the visitor forward from the comparatively gloomy narthex, down the nave to the light filled gothic choir and open ambulatory. 




Morning Service, Ste Madeleine, Vezelay



Today's carers of the Basilique are the Fraternité Monastique de Jérusalem, seen here at their 12.30 daily service.  The church has a magic sound quality, and the Franernité's bright four part polyphonic singing was a very uplifting change from some of the less competent male Gregorian chanting we have been subjected to.  The service ended with a beautifully sung hymn set to the tune of "Quem Pastores".   



Ambulatory of Ste-Madeleine, Vezelay



The open light filled ambulatory of the Basilique Ste-Madaleine - a refreshing departure from the dark ambulatory spaces of many French pilgrimage cathedrals.  Of course not having stained glass helps, as does the absence of a screen on the inner side of the ambulatory.



Ste-Madeleine Relic, Vezelay



Ste-Madeleine relic presented in the 1870s by the Archbishop of Sens to make up for the relics burned by Hugenot Protestants in the French Wars of Religion in the second half of the 1500s.


Saint Mary Magdalene's Day is on July 22



Link to the story of medieval Vézelay and photos from our 2004 visit there





Vézelay (like Autun) is famous for its tympanum and portal reliefs and narrative capitals, and this splendid coffee table book by Veronique Mouilleron with photos by Daniel Faure not only reproduces these with superb close up photos, but does so using narrative formats where is easy to understand the meaning and context of the various components of the main tympanum and narthex, and the capitals.



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