PARIS AND THE CHURCH - PART IV

LA MADELEINE -  The  Church under the Patronage of Saint Mary Magdelen

There are many strange histories attaching to churches, but not too many more strange than that attaching to La Madeleine. The great church occupies a fine commanding site at the end of Rue Royale close to Place Vendome. It lies in the 8th Arondissment.

The site has belonged to the Church since a Royal gift in the 12th Century. Several churches have stood on the site, and have been dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen.But in the lead-up to the French Revolution a new church was planned and the site was cleared. The King laid the foundation stone for the new church which was to resemble the grandly domed church which is now Les Invalides where Napoleon's Tomb lies in a crypt / hole at the foot of the Altar( see subsequent post). But before it was completed the architect died and he was replaced by another who intended that the new church should resemble the Pantheon in Rome ( S.Maria ad Martyres), accordingly the work already done was demolished and a fresh start was made. However, by the time of the 1789 Revolution and its attendant insanity, only the columned portico and the building's foundations had been completed.The lunatic proceedings of the Revolutionary leaders included debates back and forth as to what the new building should be ( anything but a church of course). All manner of ideas were bandied about, a library, a public ballroom and a marketplace were all discussed.They did not reach a conclusion. Finally Napoleon brought them to a conclusion. Then in 1806, the little Corporal made a decision.

The magnificence of the Sanctuary and High Altar
Napoleon decided that the site should be occupied by the "Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armee"( Temple of the Glory of the Grand Army"). Of course, it would have to be in the style of a typical Graeco/Roman Temple, and behold there was already the columned portico in the style of the Pantheon so the design went on from there.But the little Corporal, who made himself an Emperor no less,was soundly defeated (twice) and finally sent off on a permanent "holiday"on the island of Elba.

Since his opinions no longer counted for anything, under the restored Monarchy, King Louis XVIII determined that it should be a church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen. Progress was not rapid. The architect died before the project was completed.There was another of the tedious succession of French Revolutions and yet another restoration of the Monarchy between 1830 and 1848.It was then decided that the church, when completed, should be a national shrine of repentance for Revolution and  a monument of national reconciliation. However, before its completion could be achieved there were moves in 1837 to have it become a railway station(!!). It appears someone reminded those in charge that the Revolution was over,  and insanity was no longer the fashion. Finally in 1842 the church was Consecrated.


THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT - THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY
THE PROPHET NATHAN REBUKES KING DAVID AND HIS QUEEN BATHSHEBA
WHOSE HUSBAND URIAH HAD BEEN ORDERED INTO THE THICK OF BATTLE
SO THAT HE WOULD BE KILLED AND NOT LEARN OF HER CHILD FATHERED BY DAVID


The great bronze front doors feature panels related to the Ten Commandments and are superbly executed.

Whilst La Madeleine does not figure in the greatest organ in Paris stakes, it has, in that department  very marked distinction : from 1858 to 1877 its Organist was the great composer Camille Saint-Saens and from 1896 to 1905 his successor was none other than the remarkable Gabriel Faure.
In Faure's case there is a delightful anecdote related, that he offered his famous Requiem to the clergy at La Madeleine only to be told "Thank you M.Faure, but La Madeleine already has enough music"!!!


The church has more than its share of celebrity events having taken place there, and it is very much in demand for society weddings. A visit there on an ordinary week day in 2009 found it  busy with worshippers, quite apart from a number of tourists. It is certainly very beautiful, and inspiring of devotion and I regretted that we could not spend longer there, let alone assist at Holy Mass there.

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