Abbey Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, West Facade Abbey Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, West Facade
Cioffi, Paul L., 1928-2004
Pascal, Michel Francois Viollet-le-Duc, Eugène-Emmanuel, 1814-1879
The present Abbey Church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine was built during the 12th C. after the Pope declared that the Benedictine monastery at Vézelay possessed the relics of St. Mary Magdalene, a contemporary and disciple of Jesus Christ, and transformed the church into a magnet for pilgrims. Until 1279, when Angevine King Charles II proclaimed the saint's relics to be in Provence and not in Burgundy, Sainte-Marie-Madeleine and Vézelay flourished. The first building campaign of the Romanesque period erected the choir, transept and, perhaps, part of the nave and narthex; this was consecrated in 1104. Local rebellion provoked by high taxes levied against townspeople by the monastery, and feuds between secular and religious authorities delayed further construction until 1120 when a terrible fire broke out in the church, killing a thousand pilgrims and seriously damaging the building. Peter the Venerable, then prior at Vézelay (1120-1122), set about rebuilding the nave immediately; it was dedicated in 1132 and completed ca. 1140. (In 1165 the nave burned yet again, and was rebuilt in its present form; the early Gothic choir was completed in 1185.) An ample narthex-to help accommodate pilgrims-was begun in 1140 and completed ca. 1150. The west facade of the narthex (and church) has three portals and a tower on each end. Already in a state of decline from centuries of deterioration, the west facade was severely damaged in 1793 during the French Revolution. Based on study of ancient drawings and documents, it was restored under the direction of architect Viollet-le-Duc as part of a large project (1841-1861) to reclaim Sainte-Marie-Madeleine authorized by Prosper Mérimée, then Inspector of Historical Monuments for France. The tympanum carving above the central portal of the west facade is in the Romanesque style and employs a theme common to many west portal decorations of churches from that period: the Last Judgment, with the figure of Christ enthroned flanked by the souls of the just on his right and those of the damned on his left. The work, however, was carved in 1856-1857 by Michel Francois Pascal (French, 1810-1882). The tympanum is surrounded by a series of stepped archivolts and surmounts a lintel that depicts scenes from the life of Mary Magdalene. Jambs and trumeau are blank. In 1920, the church was designated a basilica. In 1979 UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site. ca. August 1981
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