The Benedictine Abbey of Vezelay was founded in 878. As part of the complex a Carolingian church was built. Early in the 11C relics of the saint were “recovered” from near Aix-en-Provence. Their installation caused a flood of pilgrimages to them. As part of their move to exploit the pilgrimages, the Cluniacs took control of the Abbey. They quickly built a new church (1096-1104) to accommodate the pilgrims. After a fire and collapse of the nave, it was rebuilt starting in 1120 at which time the capitals and 3 tympani were created (finished 1130) with the Pentecostal message of the church beaming out. The influx of pilgrims lead to the building of a Narthex, finished in 1146, in which year St. Bernard appropriately preached the Second Crusade from its steps. (two years later when he founded the Cistercians he renounced the decoration of churches, shocked by the excesses at Vezelay). From this spot the groups of pilgrims formed to go to Compostela by one of the 4 routes the Cluniacs established for their safety and religious entertainment. A century later the pilgrimage craze and the power of Cluny were waning and St. Francis of Assisi took over the Abbey . Worse, in 1280 remains of the Saint were found anew near Aix and the Pope certified them and declared those at Vezelay to be fake. A steady decline and neglect ensued and after the Revolution it was desanctified and partly damaged. Deterioration and some demolition followed until Prosper Merimee recognized its beauty and empowered Viollet-le-Duc to restore it . The process took 21 years! (1840-61). There are 4 tympani and 118 capitals in situ (94 in the nave). (See our other Tips and a Travelog on these). In this tip we have pictured 3. The first is the most famous appearing in many publications. It is called the “Mystical Mill” and show on our left a bearded prophet (maybe Moses) pouring the Old Testament Law into the Mill. Receiving the refined Law (New Testament) on the right is Paul (partly bald). (Versions of this depiction are very rare). Next on one capital are 3 scenes of David and Goliath. First he stunned by the slingshot, next he is decapitated and finally David leaves with loot. The last features a flaming-haired devil who appears in many capitals, many in which the meanings are lost, as in this one. What is going on? (add a comment if you think you know ).
Fondest memory: The survival and restoration of the Basilica.
This is the main attraction of Vezelay. They were created between 1120-40, less than 50 years after the revival of similar sculpting in Moissac and Toulouse (see our Tips). Thses were the second generation of artists and they have increased mastery of their craft. The figures are not stiff and there is action and insight. It is thought that there were as many as 5 masters and assistants; one may have even been Gislebertus of Autun. There was continuing work at Cluny as well, since that Order was the sponsor of this work. The Cluniacs believed strongly in the enhancing power of art in religious indoctrination. Vezelay was the staging point for one of the sets of pilgrimages (tourists; tour groups) and the opportunity for education besides the display of relics were the justification for such a large and lavish structure. Things related to Jesus are displayed on the tympani and surrounds of the church and narthex on the West. The capitals display Old Testament, Saints lives and symbolic (some meanings are unknown) decoration. There are more than 70 of them.
Fondest memory: These creations of man are of greater impact than the splendid vistas outside or the majesty of the long aisles of the church.
Favorite thing: This village (17 km from Avallon) is famous by two bridges (les deux ponts): big one (Grand Pont, finished in 1874, appr.25 m higher than the small one) and small one (old pedestrian arch bridge completed in 1770) and allows to admire the view of Cure river and rocks.
Facing the hill of Vézelay, the feudal château of Bazoches, built in the 12th C., has four towers and a keep around an interior courtyard.
Acquired in 1675 by Marshall Vauban, thanks to a bonus from King Louis XIV, Vauban carried out restoration work and transformed the castle into a military garnison.
The castle is still fully furnished and opened for the visitors.
"Le Dent Creuse" is one of the most famous restaurants in Vezelay. You can try all the specialities of Burgundy in this restaurant.
Behind the church of Sainte Madelaine there is a big area where everyone can enjoy the view of nearby villages, forests. It's my favourite place in Vezelay.
On the picture there is a view of Saint Père village. This place is also worth to be visited. The diversity of its landscapes, the wealth of its history certified by monuments, famous vineyards.
Fondest memory: You have to see in St.Pere:
* L'église Notre Dame. This is a true jewel of Burgundian gothic art.
* Les Fontaines Salées. Important archeological site of Gallo-Roman epoch.
* L'Esperance. Famous restaurant and hotel of chef Marc Meneau. It's a legend and "arguably the best dining experience in Burgundy". Marc and Francoise Meneau have welcomed The Queen Mother, the Nixons, Princess Caroline and Prince Ernst of Hanover, Presidents Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterand and Chirac!
* Cave Henry de Vézelay. Famous Burgundy wine.
Favorite thing: The large clear windows fill the church with an extraordinary luminosity gathering in intensity as it moves to the east - from the dimly-lit narthex to the nave with its twin-coloured flying buttresses and then the gloriously illuminated choir, rebuilt in the Gothic style shortly after 1200. The clarity of light shows off to advantage the basilica’s extraordinary legacy of sculptures.
On a pilgrims day in 1120, a fire begins and more than a thousand people are buried in the ashes. In 1146 Saint Bernard preaches the secon Crusade before king Charles VII
In 1150 the rebulding is accomplished but without the narthex. The French revolution destroys much of the buldings, but is restored by Viollet the Duke in 1840 to 1856.
The rebuilt church is what we see today, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture and part of UNESCO World Heritage.
During the batttle between the King of France and Girart duke of Burgundy near Saint Père, the story says that flames came out of the sky and the earth trembled. Even the most brave soilders were afraid. The wrriors layed down weapons and prayed. So it is that the land became sacred and the long history of Vezelay began.
A convent was built under the orders of Girart, but was destroyed by the Normans, it was replaced by a monastary and consecrated by the Pope in 878. Two hundred years later the monks of Cluny arrived and build a church, where the relics of Saint Mary Madelaine are deposed.
I've got used to come to Vezelay when I was living in France. My house was just about 10 km from Vezelay.
The village was a place for respite, for new ideas, for calm and mental conversation with close friends. There's something magical in this place. During the winter Vezelay is totally dead, but on summer many tourists make this village alive. Anyway I was feeling myself great any season.
Favorite thing: Vézelay – the "Eternal Hill" – was one of the most important places of pilgrimage in France. It was a point of departure and assembly for the Crusades and for pilgrims bound for Santiago de Compostela, but most of all it was a magnet for all who wished to see the relics of Mary Magdalen.
Just at the entrance of the town.
Somehow I remember that it's there, even though I visited only 3 times. So it's a nice memory because it heralds a few hours of historical, religious, and touristy time once you set off on the walk to the top.
The Tourist Office is halfway up the main street. Just opposite Tour Gaillon (see photo). They have information about the region too.
Fondest memory: Office de Tourisme
Rue Saint Pierre
Tel. 03 86 33 23 69
Burgundy has plenty of different celebrations, festivals,fair and most of them are related to famous wine.
It's a nice tradition to make medieval festival and fair in summer Vezelay.
Favorite thing: There aren't many streets in Vezelay but if you wander off the one main street, you'll find a nice sight like this.