Friday, 13 January 2012

Vézelay - Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine

Lillian :  While we were staying at Avallon we went for a couple of day-trips - the first was to Vézelay.  Another ancient hill-top walled town, quite tiny and famous for its Romanesque Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine.

Audrey:  Romanesque architecture is earlier than Gothic and is not as ornate.  
Lillian : Yes, the Basilique in Vézelay was mostly built in the 1100's.  It is one of the places in France where pilgrims start el Camino de Santiago or the way of Saint James - they all end up in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
Audrey: The Basilique has two towers but they don't match - this is the Tour St-Antoine.
The Bell Tower is called the Tour St-Michel - it is at the front facade and was built rather later - 1230-40.

Lillian : Our people took this photo of the facade on their previous visit ...
and here is one more of Tour St-Antoine in the winter light.

 Lillian :  Light - the interior of the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine seems to be all about the light.  

It is white, lofty and filled with the sun-light that streams through the windows.

Audrey :  The windows are clear glass not stained - some have coloured glass round the edges but even then the colours are palest green or lemon.
Lillian :  The Wikipedia article talks about how the sun-light pools down the centre of the long nave at midday on the Summer Solstice - apparently on the Winter Solstice the light shines on the narrative capitals on the columns on the North side on the nave.

Audrey :  Those carved Capitals and the Tympanums are quite something - for lots more photos visit Jim Forest's sets on Flickr - CapitalsBasilique  and this web site has great photos with fun descriptions ParadoxPlace.
Lillian : Apparently this capital depicts St Benedict's temptation ...     Audrey : That's one crazy looking demon!
Audrey :  Here is a knight on a rather too small horsey -
These elegant ladies (Judith & Holofernes) actually date from 1850 - they were carved during the restoration of the Basilique.  More about this carving here.
Lillian :  The Basilique had been quite neglected and it suffered during the revolution ...  Prosper Mérimée (in his job as Inspector-General of historical monuments - but he was also a novelist and wrote Carmen, the story that inspired the opera) ... Anyway, he appointed Eugène Viollet-le-Duc to oversee the restoration done between 1840 and 1861.  Viollet-le Duc also restored Notre Dame de Paris; the Vézelay Basilique must have been one of his first restorations ... he added the supporting flying buttresses to the exterior (see the photos above).

Audrey : But let's see some more of the interior - this capital makes the column into an unusual tree that bears mangoes and pine cones ...
This column had some rather random little carvings and people give the leaf a lot of patting.
Lillian : We've just one photo of a Tympanum - in the Narthex, the south-west tympanum.  
It depicts the Annunciation, the Visitation, Nativity & the 3 Wise Men.

Audrey : Now these carvings are from the 'Cloisters' which are part of the restorations / improvements? that Viollet-le Duc did in the mid 1800's.  The faces are such fun - the poor monk seems quite dismayed by the laughing gargoyle!

There are more gargoyles outside - just one row of heads.

Lillian :  Before we leave the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine we have to show you the pipe organ ...

 Doesn't look particularly interesting until you go round the back and see that it was designed to be Monk Powered.

 Pedals and a hand-rail - just one person to work the bellows.  I guess it would be like those Step Machines for exercising!

Audrey : Je fatiguée !

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