A Visit to Vézelay, France.

Vezelay Travel Blog

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View from Approaching road of the Basilica on the hill.
It was decided randomly by some work colleagues that we would take a day trip to Vézelay, Yay! So, about 40 of us hopped into the works minibus and various other Vans and Cars for a "works day out" to one of many awe inspiring places in France - Vézelay.  Vézelay is a hilltop village in Burgundy, France, about a 2 hour drive from my abode in Dijon. It is home to The Basilique Ste-Madeleine (Basilica Church of St. Mary Magdalene) which is said to hold the relics of 'Mary Magdalene' who arrived to another fascinating place in France - A seaside resort called Saint Marie de la mer (Saint Mary of the sea) near Arles in the Mediterranean.
Here in Saint Marie de la mer, in the Camargue region of Southern France (also famous for the Camargue horse) there is an annual pilgrimage (of the ancient nomadic tribe, we now know today as gypsies) on the 24th and 25th May.
They come in honour of the arrival of the Saint Sarah by boat from Egypt, believed by the French to be the daughter of Mary Magdalene, but otherwise thought of as an Egyptian servant of Mary Magdalene.
Anyway, back to Vézelay.. Vézelay's history began in 860 AD, when the hilltop site was donated for the purposes of a monastery by Gerard, Count of Roussillon and his wife, Bertha. King Nicholas I in 867 and King Charles the Bald in 868 confirmed the donation.The new Vézelay abbey was overseen by the great Benedictine Abbey at Cluny. Eudes, the monastery's first abbot, offered hospitality to King John VIII, who in 879 consecrated the first church. Norman Invasions destroyed the original church, which was then restored under Abbot Geoffrey in the early 11th century.
It was also under Abbot Geoffrey that the abbey at Vézelay was first associated with Saint Mary Magdalene. A papal letter dated to 1050 AD shows that the name of the saint was part of the official title of the abbey by that time. It was around this time that the monks of Vézelay recorded an account according to which the tombs of Sts. Maximinus and Magdalen, at St-Maximin in Provence, had been opened and their bodies removed to Vézelay. Shortly afterwards, a second account relates that only the body of St. Magdalen was taken.

For two centuries the account of the monks of Vézelay was accepted. Papal bulls of Lucius III, Urban III, and Clement III confirmed the statement that they possessed the body of St. Mary Magdalene. Construction on the present basilica began in 1096 under Abbot Artaud to properly honor the sacred relics and welcome the many pilgrims.

The Basilica of the Madeleine was dedicated in 1104  by Paschal II, Artaud's successor.Soon after the founding of the original basilica, major conflict erupted. Abbot Artaud demanded money from the townspeople for the reconstruction of the church and the monks refused to grant political independence to the citizens. This resulted in an insurrection in July 1120 in which the abbey was burnt and the abbot murdered. Abbot Renaud de Semur, who later became Archbishop of Lyon raised the basilica from ruins and added an abbot's palace. Work on the basilica's Romanesque nave was underway from 1120 to its dedication in 1132; the narthex was built around 1140-50. The original choir was destroyed by fire in 1165 and rebuilt in the Gothic style.

Vézelay continues to receive thousands of visitors and  has hosted a number of important historical events:

  • In 1146 St.
    Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade in front of the basilica.
  • On Pentecost, 1166, St. Thomas Becket used the pulpit of Vézelay to pronounce excommunication against the clerics who, to gratify King Henry II, had violated the rights of the Church.
  • In July 1190, Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip Augustus met at the Basilica Sainte Madeleine to begin their journey on the Third Crusade.
  • In 1217, St. Francis of Assisi founded the first French community of Friars Minor at Vézelay.

The prestige of the abbey began to diminish in 1280 when the Dominicans of St. Maximin in Provence claimed that the true body of St.

View of surrounding Area from the wooded picnic area in the grounds of the Basilica. WOW!
Mary Magdalene had been discovered in their church. Consequently, the number of pilgrims to Vézelay declined sharply during the 14th and 15th centuries. During the 16th century, Vézelay was thoroughly sacked by Huguenots. The Huguenot masters of Vézelay converted the Madeleine into a storehouse and stable, destroying the relics by fire.

During the French Revolution the ancient monastery buildings were destroyed and sold at auction. Only the basilica, cloister, and dormitory escaped demolition. An attempt at restoration of the once-great pilgrimage site was made in 1876 by the future Cardinal Bernadou, Archbishop of Sens. The archbishop determined to restore the pilgrimage of St. Mary Magdalen at Vézelay and brought a relic of the saint which Martin IV had given to the Chapter of Sens in 1281.

The Basilica was restored by Viollet le Duc in 1840, the same restorer who fixed up the cathedrals of Laon, Amiens and Paris's Notre-Dame.

The grounds of the Basilica are large with a wooded picnic area and fantastic views of the surrounding countryside. Armed with a picnic consisting of du pain, du vin and du fromage amongst other things, we enjoyed a filling meal in the French summer sun after spending time inside the basilica and having our breath taken away by its enormity and brilliance - Fantastique! Burgundy is a fantastic place in general, with so much to see and do for all ages and interests. But then so is France in my opinion - I love this country for its diversity and wine!
Next Stop Bergerac! Cant wait!!
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photo by: basilius007