Church of The Madeleine

Church of The Madeleine (23)

Surrounded by 52 Corinthian columns measuring 20 metres in height, it is one of the most peculiar churches in Paris. And as if it were a Greek temple, it lacks exterior elements such as a bell tower or cross that would show that it really is a church.

Fancies of neo-classicism. Of a similar structure are other buildings from the same period such as the Pantheon or the National Assembly., over the Faubourg de Saint Honoré and the grand boulevards.

The history of the church is long and complex. Its construction was not easy and took almost 80 years, during which time there were diverse political and ideological changes. It was King Louis XV who laid the first stone of the works in 1765 and chose Contant d'Ivry as the architect. However, this architect died in 1777 and his pupil and successor, Guillaume-Martin Couture, completely modified the project. Couture tended towards a church with a Greek cross ground plan instead of a Latin cross, with a large portico of Corinthian columns and an enormous cupola.

When the Revolution broke out, the construction had progressed to the height of the capitals of the columns. But in order not to anger revolutionaries the works were halted until 1804.

Meanwhile, numerous architects proposed different uses for the building: a large palace to house the National Convention, a national library, an opera house or a Temple of the Revolution that would not be very far from the guillotine that was in the Place de la Concorde.

In 1806 a decree was passed in order to complete the building for the Paris Stock Exchange, but the project never came to fruition. At the end of the same year, Napoleon I signed a decree that established the building of a temple to the glory of the French army. More than 80 projects were presented as bids for the tender, from among which Napoleon chose that of Vignon: a temple inspired by Greco-roman architecture.

In 1807 Vignon took over the work although what he really did was do away with everything that was already standing. It seems that he liked the columns and decided to preserve them. On Napoleon’s fall from power in 1815, Louis XVIII decided to return to the original idea for it to be a church, evoking the Bourbons guillotined in the Place de la Concorde. The idea was rejected when in 1826 a chapel was built in the Place Louis XVI honouring the Bourbons.

The works continued despite economic difficulties. In 1830, the July Monarchy once again wanted a sanctuary of national reconciliation. The works were then focused on the sculptures and bas-relief work that adorn the church, on which many artists worked.

The church was finally consecrated on the 24th of July 1842, Saint Mary Magdalene’s Day. But one could not accept that the church was finally completed. Years had to pass before the grand organ was installed, which you will be able to hear at Sunday morning mass and the apse mosaic was finished in 1893.

Despite its exterior, its religious character can already be felt in the entrance, since on the large bronze doors, which weigh more than 3 tons, you will be able to see the bas-reliefs by Henri de Triqueti representing the Ten Commandments. And in the niches in the walls you will be able to count as many as 32 figures of saints.

Its interior, gilded and in marble, opens up before you, 80m metres long and divided into 3 large cupolas. And among the valuable pieces, we would highlight the beauty of the two sculptural series: Mary Magdalene in ecstasy, by Marochetti and the Baptism of Christ by Rude. If you look towards the choir, you will discover an excellent fresco by Jules Ziegler illustrating the history of Christianity on its 250 square metres. 

You will also be able to see the large stairway situated on the south side, which will lead you to one of the most symbolic views of the city.

Outside, on the square of the same name, a flower market has been based since 1834 which cheers up the whole area. It is very famous for its select food shops and exclusive stores.

Make sure you stroll around the surrounding streets and enjoy the most chic part of Paris.

If you want to see one of the most beautiful public baths in the world, go towards the east of La Madeleine. A spiral staircase will take you not only down, but also back in time, since you will find some baths from 1905 with all the splendour of art nouveau. Carved wood, floral adornments, coloured glass windows... an authentic luxury, as well as being attended by “Madame Pipí” who is in charge of keeping it spick and span.

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