La Madeleine was built as a temple to honour the glory of Napoleon’s Army:
La Madeleine is a church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. Its style is Neo-Classical and it was inspired by the Maison Carrée in Nimes. When La Madeleine was built, it was intended as a temple to honour the glory of Napoleon’s army. Had it not been for a couple of twists in the course of history, La Madeleine might well have been quite a different monument today.
The Many Plans for La Madeleine
Pierre Contant d’Ivry was the first architect commissioned to build the church in 1757. His design was based on the late Baroque church of Les Invalides. Work started in 1764 but d’Ivry died before it was completed.
Guillaume-Martin Couture, the next architect, decided to start anew. He demolished d’Ivry’s structure and based his new design on the Roman Pantheon. When the Revolution broke out, only the foundation had been completed and work was discontinued. What to do with the building became a question during Revolutionary France. Should it be turned into a library, a ballroom or perhaps a marketplace?
In 1806, Napoleon decided that a Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armee (Temple to the Glory of the Great Army) was to be built. Pierre-Alexandre Barthelemy Vignon was commissioned for the work and he based his design on an antique temple. Once again, the previous structure was razed so that a fresh start could be made. Unfortunately, Vignon also died before completing the project. During the period of his successor, it was briefly suggested that the building could be used as a train station.
Consecrated as a Church
In 1808, when the Arc de Triomphe was completed, the purpose of Napoleon’s temple seemed superfluous. After the fall of Napoleon, King Louis XVIII decided that the structure would be used as a church. It was finally consecrated as a church in 1842.
A Popular Paris Attraction
La Madeleine is a popular sightseeing attraction with visitors to Paris. Located in the Opera quarter, it is unmissable. Fifty-two giant Corinthian columns encircle the entire exterior of the building. A key external feature is the triangular gable which has a detailed frieze of The Last Judgement.
The church has a single nave with three domes which are lavishly gilded in Renaissance style. Above the high altar is Charles Marochetti’s Mary Magdalene being carried up to heaven by two angels.
La Madeleine’s pipe organ is regarded to be one of the best in Paris. Famous composers like Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré have all played the organ here. The church lends itself as an outstanding venue for classical concerts and organ recitals and many are frequently held here.
La Madeleine is also noted as the church where funerals of France’s famous citizens are held. Some of the high profile funerals include those of Frédéric Chopin, Saint-Saëns and Fauré.
Place de la Madeleine
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