Vezelay has been a pilgrimage town for centuries. It still is, including religious pilgrims, history pilgrims and scenery pilgrims. They all receive satisfaction here.
As you walk up the hill, you join a crowd of people heading up with you. There are tourist shops, restaurants, religious item stores . . . and yes, real monks and nuns padding about in sandals much as they did centuries ago.
The wonderful church at Vezelay is not a cathedral which must have a bishop's chair. It is a basilica . . . a fine point for such a magnificent church. After Chartres, this is my favorite church in the entire world. It is not as ornate as, for instance, most Bavarian churches, but the very austerity is what I love about it. When you step inside, you feel you are stepping back in history; the ages are palpable inside the church.
This is one place where no one has to tell you to look up. Your eyes are drawn upward as you enter. If you have the opportunity to take a guided tour, do so you will understand all before your eyes. If not, purchase one of the many booklets available in the bookstore.
. . . and do look up!
There are spacious grounds around the BASILICA; which give fabulous views over the countryside, as well as go around the building to see its nooks.
If you had the day, you could plan a picnic after seeing the cathedral, and then walk down the hill browsing the various shops, etc.
Because the original church tympani are under the Narthex, the Revolutionaries did not destroy them very badly. They did vent their rage upon the outer (West) face and portal of the Narthex. The inside ones were finished probably between 1120-30, a handful of years after the first ones ever created in Moissac and Toulouse. (There are experts who believe that Gislebertus first worked here (as an assistant?) before going to Autun and that these may be his work. Be that as it may, the central doorway is a masterpiece! The subject is the Pentecost and rays are coming out of Christ's hand to the Apostles. He is seated at a slight angle. The Message being received is to carry the Word (the religion) to the entire world. Below on the lintel are peoples who have not been converted (such as the pygmies, one of whom is climbing a ladder to mount a horse). In the first recessed arch around the tympanum are scenes representing those groups who are already believers. The next outer arch are the scenes of the months alternating with zodiacal signs . The very outer arch has entwined foliage.
The nave is very long (200 feet compared to Notre Dame of Paris’ 198 ft; these are nave only figures; the total length is 394 ft., 30 ft less than N.D.) with an aisle at each side and only a two level elevation (no triforium). A portal precedes the nave and each aisle, requiring three tympani. The nave and aisle arches are of alternating colored stones. The way the light enters makes it a mystical experience. There is a tower at the crossing. The choir, ambulatory with radiating chapels and transepts, were recreated at the end of the 12C, when a Gothic style was used. This area has a triforium level and is taller than the nave. The transepts are short and the South one gives over to a Chapter house and part of a cloister beyond which, outside at the apse area, there is a beautiful view to the town below and far beyond. (Tips by others show this). The reason for entering is to see the 94 capitals. The total 118 (plus 4 tympani) are a fine show of 12C Romanesque sculpture. (Our General Tips illustrate some of them).
The North Portal Tympanum depicts the Resurrection with Christ appearing to the Apostles, Below on the lintel he meets them on the road and then again at Emmaus. To the right is his encounter with the Magdalene. The South Portal is devoted to the birth of Christ. Above is the Adoration of the Magi, while below on the left is the Annunciation, then the Meeting (of Mary and Elizabeth), and lastly the Announcement to the shepherds with the cradle and child present. Above each tympanum are two recessed arches. The outer bands have twined foliage while the inner ones have rosettes.
The Narthex was built between 1140-45. It was created apparently to accommodate the large number of pilgrims arriving. It has a 13C facade in Gothic style that adds a gable above the tympanum. (covered in a Separate Tip) not to be confused with the other three tympani over the doors that lead into the aisles and nave of the church and entered from the Narthex. (also described as a Tip). The gable has 5 lancet windows which light the Narthex. There are 6 statues at their base: (L>R) Saints John Evangelist, Andrew, John Baptist, Peter, Paul and Benoit. Above are Jesus, 2 Angels, the Virgin and the Magdalene. At the edges there is only a South Tower (pictured in our Intro) from the top of which fine views of the town and area are obtained. (We were too old to climb up). Inside, the narthex has 3 central bays (L 77 and H 72 feet) with an aisle at each side. The arches are pointed, an innovation at that time. Suger, who was at Cluny, then used that in his changes of St.Denis. Above the aisles are tribunes. All is supported by 4 massive pillars. Decorating the pillars and doors are 24 fine capitals, many here restored or replaced by Viollet-le-Duc who labored here for 21 years (1840-61) to provide the architectural and sculptural extravaganza we are visiting. The capitals present scenes from the Old and New Testament. The tribunes above the aisles have plain arches and there are groined vaults.
The tympanum on the central door of the West facade of the Narthex was created in 1856 by a sculptor named Pascal under the guidance of Viollet-le-Duc who collected remaining fragments , pictures and pertinent documents. These, plus a deep understanding of Romanesque and Gothic design and early stone carving technics allowed him to synthesize a tympanum analagous to the original. The original Narthex was created in 1140-50 along with the tympanum (which many believe was done by Gislebertus). This was the second round of tympanum-creation at Vezelay. The first ones are under the Narthex on the three portals of the church (about 1120-30). (See Our Tips). There is much debate about how far restoration should go with works of art and architecture and how restorers should inform the viewer. Le Duc was a believer in re-creation (beyond restoration). Most tourists wandering about France are totally ignorant of his hand in both a positive and negative way. Without his efforts there might never have been a Gothic revival or many of the tourist sights we see, like here or at Carcasonne. (Particularly see our Tips on Pierrefonds).
The subject of the Tympanum is the Last Judgement with the Blessed directed to Christ's right and the Damned to the left into a Leviathan. The lintel deals with the life of Lazarus (who was resurrected). Christ Teaching is on the central Pier capital.
VEZELAY: On the way to Santiago de Compostella
Vezelay has been a magic place in charge of history at all times, and this for more than thousand years, the pilgrims left the Basilica in direction Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, Spain.
In 2004 we were somme of these.
The sign of the photograph indicates to the pilgrims the places where they can sleep for a small price!
Vezelay est un endroit magique chargé d'histoire de tous temps , et ce depuis plus de mille ans, les pelerins partirent de la Basilique en direction de Santiago de Compostella, Galice, Espagne.
En 2004 nous etions de ceux-là.
Le signe de la photo indique aux pélerins les endroits où ils peuvent dormir pour un petit prix !
This young lady looked none to happy to be touring Vezelay that day. I'm sure she was rescued shortly. Lots of walking and not too many child-friendly things to do. Be sure you plan something for small children as a little reward when you make your trip.
Another typical old country town built on a hill. There are vineyards off on the near horizon, quaint little markets, and an old church. If you visit in the right time of year (spring/summer), the trees will be in full bloom and make for beautiful landscape shots.
Is one of the most important monuments of architecture and sculpture of the Romanesque period. It was a pilgrimage church in its own right, allegedly holding the relics of St. Mary Magdalen to whom it is dedicated, and it also stood at the beginning of one of the four major routes through France for pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia
The first Franciscan convent was founded in France in 1217. In the 13th century, relics of St. Marie-Madeleine were found in Provence and brought to Vezelay. The cloister went to ruins but were restaured in 1840.
Luscious green and I was lucky enough to catch it almost empty of people. You can walk all the way along the rim of the hill and enjoy spectacular views all round from the chalky hills to the north, and the vally Cure, to the great forests of the Morvan to the south.
It's a bit of a climb along the main street of Vezelay but after reaching St. Madeleine's church it is a nice rest in the park behind it, at the highest part of the hill.
The view is spectacular! You just can't stop making photo's even though it is near impossible to catch the image with an ordinary camera. We were lucky that the rain had stopped.