A Romanesque basilica on top of an Eternal Hill
Amongst the plains and vineyards of Bourgogne, sitting on a rocky peak named “The Eternal Hill” stands the impressive Romanesque basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. Restored in the 19th century, the basilica and the village of Vézelay below are both listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The salt springs of Vézelay are at the origins of early human settlements. Later, the Romans built public baths, which were destroyed in the 3rd century.
A first Benedictine monastery was founded in 858 but, with the Norman invasions, it was relocated further up the hill. In 882, a monk named Badilon brought back remains he declared belonged to Saint Mary Magdalene. These relics propelled Vézelay into a great pilgrimage site during the Middle-Ages.
In 1146, Bernard de Clairvaux preached here, urging a second crusade. The crowd was so large that a platform had to be erected on a hill outside the city. The town was fortified and 44 years later, Philippe Auguste joined Richard the LionHeart in Vézelay to leave for a third crusade.
During the Wars of Religion, the city was captured by the Protestants and pilgrimages slowly dwindled. The church was close to collapse when young architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc received his first commission. Between 1840 and 1859, the basilica was rehabilitated and Viollet-le-Duc went on to restore other major French landmarks such as Notre-Dame de Paris and the Mont Saint-Michel.
The basilica Sainte Marie-Madeleine stands high on a rocky hill called the Mount Scorpion, surrounded by ramparts, valleys and vineyards. Both the basilica and the village below make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Added to the original 11th century Romanesque building were a Gothic choir and transepts in the late 12th century. The proportions of which are visually stunning at 19,5 m high and a 62.5 m long nave. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Vézelay was the largest Magdalenian sanctuary in Western Europe and the relics of Saint Mary Magdalene are still kept inside the crypt. Throughout the centuries, many famous names have flocked to the sanctuary of Vézelay, for a spiritual experience or simply for the beauty of the area: Saint Louis, Thomas Beckett - Archbishop of Canterbury, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Serge Gainsbourg…All have felt inspired by the sanctuary and beauty of Vézelay.
Message and Pilgrimage
Originally a simple Benedictine monastery founded by Girard de Roussillon, the abbey of Vézelay became one of the major pilgrimage sites in medieval times, thanks to the relics of Saint Mary Magdalene.
The relics of Saint Mary Magdalene have attracted people from all walks of life for almost a millennium. The “Eternal Hill” where the basilica stands is also one of the starting points for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. The sanctuary has always conveyed the value of divine mercy and forgiveness.
About a million visitors a year make the climb through the village to the top of the hill to admire the asymmetrical basilica whose left tower was never built.
The village and basilica of Vézelay
300m up the hill, surrounded by vineyards, the Sainte Marie-Madeleine basilica is a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. The village below winds around the edifice in a maze of narrow streets and beautiful houses. Both are labelled as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Ready to taste the best ever Beef Bourguignon? You are in the right place as boeuf bourguignon is THE world-famous local specialty. Along with the escargots de Bourgogne – snails and many other tasty dishes. Agriculture is a big part of the local economy and farmers take pride in their mainly free-range and organic produce.
Le Musée Zervos
An incredible modern art collection gifted by collector Christian Zervos to the town of Vézelay. On display, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Henri Laurens, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Serge Poliakoff, Alexander Calder…to name but a few.
Le Musée de l’Oeuvre de Viollet-Le-Duc
To the right on the basilica in the Chapter room, an exhibition of drawings and watercolours by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the young architect who restored the basilica along with many other historic buildings all over France.
Hiking around Vézelay
On foot, bike or on horseback a choice of trails for all levels of fitness. Vézelay is also a departure point to walk to Assissi in Italy or Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Find out more about visiting and staying in Vézelay