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The basilica in Vézelay is the very nucleus of this charming medieval town and it is certainly one of the treasures of Burgundy. Famous throughout history as the starting off point for the Crusades, today it is still a centre for pilgrimages to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
The interior of the building is breath-taking. The stone carving on the tympanum over the central doorway is a masterpiece. The nave is light and magnificent, with columns in gentle tones of cream and coffee limestone with capitals, each telling a story.
The monastery was founded by Girart de Roussillon in the 9C and dedicated to Mary Magdalene. It was said that she was buried there and so many miracles took place at her tomb attracting many visitors that the church had to be enlarged. A fire destroyed the building, and many pilgrims in 1120, but rebuilding began at once and the nave was completed. In 1150 the narthex was added, and in 1215 the Romanesque-Gothic choir and transept were finished.
This period was the time of the Crusades. Saint Bernard preached the 2nd Crusade here in 1146 and then King Philippe Auguste of France and Richard the Lionheart of England met to depart on the 3rd Crusade in 1190. Then at the end of the 13C, other relics purporting to be those of Mary Magdalene were found in Provence and the popularity of Vézelay began to wane. Today, some of her relics remain in the crypt at Vézelay.
Torn by war and revolution over the ensuing centuries, the building was saved in the 19C by the architect Viollet-le-Duc, and it was elevated to a basilica in 1920. Walk around the building to appreciate the flying buttresses, supporting the great structure, and enjoy the view over the Cure Valley and Morvan Forest from the shady terrace at the back of the basilica.
Basilique-Ste-Sainte Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay
+33 (0) 86 33 39 50
Burgundy considers itself the heart of France, a prosperous region with world-renowned wine, earthy but excellent cuisine and magnificent architecture. Franche-Comté to the east combines gentle farmland with lofty Alpine forests. Add the plethora of world-class wineries to some of France’s most gorgeous countryside and you have the recipe for a perfect tour of Burgundy.
Bungundy’s vignerons (winegrowers) only have small vineyards, rarely more than 10 hectares, and they produce small quantities of very good wine. Burgundy reds are made with pinot noir grapes and the best vintages demand 10 to 20 years to age; whites are made with chardonnay. The region’s most famous wine route, the Route des Grands Crus, and its often narrow variants wend their way between stone-built villages and steeple-topped churches or the turrets of a chateau peeping above the trees.
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