When he died in December 1791 at age 35, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was still working on his last composition, his Requiem Mass in D Minor (K. 626).
The Requiem had been commissioned by a mysterious messenger with wads of money who wouldn't say who he was working for. This has led to countless speculative stories over the years, including highly fictionalized accounts in Milos Forman's 1982 film Amadeus and in the opera Mozart and Salieri by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), which was staged at the Frankfurt Opera in 2007.
Because of all the mystery surrounding Mozart's Requiem, I took the opportunity to hear it performed in a mysterious venue, La Madeleine, which is a large Catholic church disguised as a Greek temple.
Second photo: Waiting for the concert. As the white house lights are dimmed, the place starts to look more and more mysterious. It's easy to imagine a black-cloaked messenger lurking in the shadows somewhere.
Third photo: The Amadeus Choir and the Jean-Louis Petit Orchestra performing Mozart's Requiem under the direction of Luc Baghdassarian, who has won first prizes in several "Young Conductors" and "International Conductors" competitions in Switzerland, Rumania and Austria.
Fourth photo: Looking up at the artwork on the domes during the concert.
See also: my annotated list of Mozart’s operas in a travelogue on my Salzburg page.
One of the most familiar landmarks in all of Paris, La Madeleine, has had a stormy history. La Madeleine was started in 1764 and later razed for the first time to begin a building modelled after the Pantheon. Razed a second time when Napolean announced that on this spot should be erected a temple to the glory of the Great Army and gave commission to Vignon, which started work on the Greek building.
In 1814 Louis XVIII confirmed that the Madeleine should be a church but in 1837 the building was almost selected for use as Paris' first railway terminal, but La Madeleine escaped when it was finally consecreation in 1842.
The interior of the church is supposed to show an interesting neo-classical décor but the church is so dark inside that apart from the high altar with some lights and a statue on the left side with a hundred lit candles most details are lost for the visitor.
The interior design of the Madeleine is of a remarkable homogeneity. This rare aesthetic unit for a church is due to the fact that the interior achievement was done in a short time. With its single nave the church has similarities with ancient basilicas. The cupolas with the weak lighting remember the Pantheon in Rome.
The columns of the nave are in Corinthian style like those outside.
Marble from various origins is the essential material for the decoration. The white marble from Carrare contrasts with the red marbles from Belgium. Gildings underline the ornaments.
The sculptures are due to famous artists of the first half of the 19th c.
They were directly carved in white stone or Carrara marble. No stuccos here.
If your nocturnal vision is superior to normal you will certainly appreciate the most remarkable decoration of this church.
A much visited church with 600.000 visitors/year.
Beauty and originality were combined by Charles Marochetti who carved in white marble over a period of twelve years the altar piece called "Ravissement de Sainte Marie-Madeleine" (the ecstasy of holy Marie-Madeleine). According to tradition angels were supporting her body when she would leave the ground in ecstasy. According to the same tradition she ended her life in the Provence.
In the choir are also the reliquaries of Marie-Madeleine and Saint Vincent de Paul due to famous goldsmith Froment-Meurice.
Although this church is located in a commercial area, worship for Marie-Madeleine seems to be vivid from the number of lit candles to be seen left of the nave near the entrance.
Since several years when visiting Paris for work or tourism I stay in the area of the Madeleine church. I like this area; there are a lot of shops, small or large (like Le Printemps at the nearby Bvd. Haussmann), restaurants, brasseries, several metro stations, some monuments (Opéra Garnier) and at night the place is rather quiet and safe. It is not a cheap area but it is certainly less expensive than the nearby Place Vendôme. In a side street I found a hotel which is much less chick than the Ritz but also much, much less expensive.
This being said, each time I see La Madeleine I think this is the most unusual church I know in France, a pastiche of antiquity.
Under the "Ancien Régime" a project of a church existed based on the usual Latin cross plan. This was halted at the Revolution and modified by Napoleon into a Greek temple to the glory of his victorious army. The architect was Pierre-Alexandre Vignon. After the disastrous campaign of Russia the Emperor changed mind and came back to a church.
Then came king Louis XVIII but it was only after a number of twists and turns that the present church was ended by King Louis Philippe in 1842.
The church of La Madeleine is a perfect illustration of neo-classical architecture. On a monumental base with 28 stairs there are 52 columns, of 20 m height, in Corinthian style. In the wall between the columns are 52 statues of saints by various sculptors.
The carved pediment of Henri Lemaire shows the Last Judgment, Christ appears surrounded by two angels. Marie-Madeleine is on the right kneeling to intercede for the damned, she thus expresses the repentance.
The bronze doors made by Triqueti are exceptional by their dimensions which make them larger than the bronze door of St. Peters in Rome.
The church is especially nice to look at when the stairs of the southern entrance at rue Royale are decorated with flowers. From the stairs there is a nice view on the obelisk of the Place de la Concorde only 500 m distant with in the back another Neo-Classical façade of the Assemblée Nationale -Palais Bourbon.
A much visited church of Paris with 600.000 visitors/year.
The first look at this church gives a strange sensation of a pastiche - a copy of a roman temple out of date and context.
Well, it is. It looks like roman, without being roman.
It has a style uncommon in France in the 18th century, where it was started. It was built for artistic reasons, not exactly religious ones, what explains its odd look. But it got A history: the revolution, right after its start, stopped the construction, and hardly discussed its future - a library, a marketplace, even a ballroom, but it was Napoleon who decided, at last, to proceed with its religious vocation, as temple to the glory of the army.
After Napoleon's fall, the temple was dedicated to Mary Magdalene. Now it is a trendy beautiful and odd church.
And it reaches perfectly its original aesthetic objective.
The pipe organ of La Madeleine is famous. Built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1846 she is considered as one of the best in Paris. Cavaillé-Coll with his father had just finished the organ of the Basilica Saint-Denis when they made this one which an esthetical splendour and a great musicality. It is said that organists feel like concert virtuoso (the console is turned towards the altar) on this organ.
It is not surprising that French composers Lefébure-Wély, Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré were organists at the Madeleine. The funerals of Frédéric Chopin, Saint-Saëns, and Fauré were held there.
In the seventies both the key and stop action of the organ has been electrified and the number of stops extended from the initial 46 to 58.
This organ was used for several recordings mainly by the present organist François-Henri Houbart with works of Vierne, Franck and Poulenc.
Interesting are the: "Les Dimanches Musicaux de La Madeleine" on Sundays at 16 h. See programme on http://www.concerts-lamadeleine.com/
Place de la Madeleine and surroundings are well known in Paris for their luxury food and wine shops. The best and internationally recognized food shops are Fauchon and Hediard specifically described here in the "shopping" category.
There are more:
On the upper scale as what concern prices you have caviar shops. Prices range between 2000 € for the French farmed types and 8000 € for the best wild quality.
In the medium range foie gras and on the lower side mustard from the house Maille.
Now Maille mustards and vinegars are sold in most supermarkets and groceries in France and other countries, but the shop in front of the Madeleine church is a "vitrine" window to show the products to tourists coming for Fauchon (or the Madeleine church). So if you came from overseas to buy French mustard no need to spend you money at Fauchon as long as you are interested by the product and not by the name.
There is also the wine shop Nicolas, again the "vitrine" for this group, but at the Boulevard de la Madeleine n° 3 you will find another specialist in wines "Lavinia" with a wide range of wines, champagnes, spirits and liquors at reasonable prices like their competitor "Nicolas".
Southwards of la Madeleine towards Place de la Concorde you have the rue Royale, to the north there is the rue Tronchet leading to the Boulevard Haussmann. Eastwards is the boulevard des Capucines. The area is full of luxe boutiques mainly for ladies although men are not forgotten.
La Madeleine is a Catholic church dedicated to Mary Magdalene and can be found right near the Place de la Concorde on the Rue Royale. It has a long history dating back well over two hundred years and after many a change to the original plans, it was commissioned by Napoleon to be built in a style reminiscent of the Maison Carree in Nimes. It is easily recognized by its dozens of stone pillars which surround its perimeters both inside and out.
I believe that Frederic Chopin's funeral service was held here. He was later interred in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Chopin holds a very dear place in my heart and since I did in fact visit his grave the day before my visit to La Madeleine, it was lovely to have the chance to also be in the place of his funeral service.
At the time of my visit (October 2013) La Madeleine was undergoing refurbishment and seemed to me to be in a sad and sorry state. Hopefully when the work is done it will be back to its former glory. To me the most outstanding feature of the church is the High Altar which is crowned by a wonderful sculpture of the Angels escorting Mary Magdalene to Heaven.
When I first arrived at the church, I thought I would not be able to go in as there were many stairs to climb and no sign of a bannister which is very necessary for me with my wonky knees. However, not to worry, I saw a little sign pointing to a disabled entry which I followed and lo and behold there was a lift.
It's no accident that it looks like a transport from ancient Greece or Rome. The Madeleine was constructed as less of a church than a monument to Napoleon's army, and the design was lifted from a classic Roman temple in southern France. It almost attained ecclesiastical status under Louis XVIII but was christened a monument to national, post-Revolution reconciliation before the work was finished. Finally, after narrowly escaping fate as a train station, it was consecrated to St. Mary Magdalene in 1842 and continues to serve as a parish church.
My favorite part of this one is the lovely and unusual altar figure of the Magdalene ascending into heaven with the help of several angels, and the half dome above it with an oculus illuminating a painted fresco and ring of saints. Amusingly the fresco, depicting the history of Christianity, illustrates the Emperor himself being adored by a cluster of clergy - who are oblivious to the biblical principles floating just above their heads!
Here's a nice panorama of the interior:
Entrance is free; see the website for hours and other information
After viewing Assemblees Nationale, we are still on the Bus and crossing the River Seine. Be ready for a photo, as there is a good view of the Eiffel Tower and bridges along the River Seine.
The Bus takes us around Place De La Concorde where the Obelisk is. It is here, where we see the Greek temple just north of the Place the Concorde, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, French is Madeleine, hence the name of the building.
This is the one Napoleon wanted to copy. [previous tip]
In 1764, construction began on building a Church similar to the Invalides Church. The Architect died, and the new Architect, instead of carrying on with the same design, razed the building to the ground, and started building one like the Pantheon.
You wouldn't believe what happened in 1806! Napoleon decided he wanted a Temple in honor of his army, so the building was razed to the ground yet again! When the Arc de Triomphe was built, this Temple was no longer needed. Eventually, it was decided to use the building as a Church, which it still is to this day.
Impressive? Yes! ............52 Corinthian columns surround the Temple, all are 20 metres high. Each column is topped with a sculpted frieze, and on the bronze doors is a frieze representing the Ten Commandments.
This Catholic Church can be visited from 9am to 7pm every day of the week.
HOP ON/OFF BUSES....The L'Open Tour Bus stops here
As churches go, La Madeleine is totally different from most of what you will see in Paris, both inside and out. The exterior is totally neo-Classical, designed to honor Napoleon's Army. After a lot of delays and indecision and change of functions, the Church was dedicated to Mary Magdalene in 1849.
The interior seems rather simple really, until you look at the alter. The Last Judgement there is gorgeous. It's a fairly small church with none of the grand spires or tinted glass that you will see elsewhere.
One of the neat things about this church is outside, check out the line of sight. (second picture).
Like so many Paris monuments, you can see other famous attractions in the direct line of sight. What a job of site selection!