Built as a temple to honour the glory of Napoleon’s Army:
La Madeleine is a church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, but when it was built, it was intended as a temple to honour the glory of Napoleon’s army. Its style is Neo-Classical and it was inspired by the Maison Carrée in Nimes, but 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.
- When Pierre Contant d’Ivry was first 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.
- The next architect Guillaume-Martin Couture decided to start anew. He demolished d’Ivry’s structure and based his new design on the Roman Pantheon. Only the foundation was completed when the Revolution broke out and work was discontinued. The powers that be couldn’t decide on the purpose of the building in Revolutionary France – should it be 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 the man commissioned for the work and he based his design on an antique temple. The previous structure was again razed so that a fresh start could be made. Vignon died before completing the project and during the time of his successor, it was briefly suggested that the building could be used as a train station.
- When the Arc de Triomphe was completed in 1808 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.
La Madeleine is a popular sightseeing attraction for many visitors to Paris, and being in the Opera quarter, it is unmissable. Fifty-two giant Corinthian columns encircle the entire exterior of the building and a key external feature is the triangular gable which has a detailed frieze of The Last Judgment.
Inside, there’s a single nave with three domes which are lavishly gilded in Renaissance style. Walk to the rear of the church and 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 as one of the best in Paris and famous composers like Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré 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, including Frédéric Chopin, Saint-Saëns and Fauré.
Place de la Madeleine
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