In the beautiful region of Burgundy, rich of many religious buildings, one is particularly interesting, listed among Unesco World Heritage : the Vezelay Abbey, a jewel of Romanesque architecture, a major site of Christianity since the middle ages and a rallying point of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
VÃ©zelay Abbey (now known as Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine) was a Benedictine and Cluniac monastery in VÃ©zelay in the Yonne dÃ©partement in Burgundy, France. The Benedictine abbey church of Ste-Marie-Madeleine (or Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene), with its complicated program of imagery in sculpted capitals and portals, is one of the outstanding masterpieces of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture, though much of its exterior sculpture was defaced during the French Revolution.
Built between the 9th and the 12th century, the majestic basilica of Saint Maria Magdalena can be seen from the distance. The hilltop on which it is built is called â€œthe eternal hillâ€.Â Its shelters relics of Saint Magdalena, and is renowned for many miracles, so in the 12th century, when the crusades times reached a peak, the church was at the center ofÂ religious attention. The second Crusade was launched there by Bernard de Clairvaux in front of 100 000 people and the king Louis VII.
The size of the basilica is really impressive: after leaving the dark narthex you enter the nave: it is 63 meters long and 18 meters high, illuminated by a series of high windows enlightening the three sculpted great doors. The central tympanum displays a gigantic Christ and at sunset the sculptures adorning the capitals seem to come alive. Underneath the nave is a medieval crypt where the relics are supposedly kept. On these premises blows a religious spirit that inspired many writers and philosophers.
The Medieval Village
Like almost all the important medieval villages, VÃ©zelay was circled with thick walls punctuated by seven towers and three gates. Today, it is a very nice way to apprehend the city, before you take the moats promenade; the later will take you up the hill then down through the main street lined with Renaissance houses.
52 kilometers north of VÃ©zelay, the medieval town of Auxerre stretches along the river Yonne. Henri and June Miller spent some time there, asserting it was better than Paris because it was more authentically French. It includes quite a few half-timber old houses as well as French Renaissance larger buildings giving a prosperous look to the streets leading to the cathedral, Saint-Etienne. It took 4 centuries to build the beautiful church. From the 12th to the 16th century, the best artists contributed to create this masterpiece in a flamboyant gothic style. In the Romanesque crypt, only vestige of the older church it replaced, there is a very beautiful and interesting fresco representing Christ riding a horse. Could it be the Christ of Apocalypse? Another treasure is worth a visit: the old Saint-Germain abbeyâ€™s crypt. It houses an underground church with 3 naves, wonderful painted vaults and frescoes among the oldest in France.
If you are thirsty after all these visits, the Chablis vineyard will welcome you. Located 16 km east of Auxerre, the charming village offers the same combination of medieval and renaissance houses, making your stay pleasantly familiar now, so your mind and your palate can be entirely concentrated on savouring the different Chablis wines. Enjoy!