History Lesson: La Madeleine Church
December 29, 2014
Those of you in Paris already (what are you doing online? Get out there and go exploring!) might have seen the Roman Catholic Church, La Madeleine, in Paris’ 8th arrondissement all lit up in her blue and pink Christmas lights. If you’re on your way, you have that treat in store! We recommend watching the sun set on the Seine before walking over to the Place de la Concorde, and up the rue Royale in order to get to the church before closing time at 7pm.
The History of La Madeleine
The church that – again and again – nearly never was
The Madeleine church (dedicated to Lady Magdalene) was not initially planned to look like the one we see now. It was originally modeled on the church of Les Invalides, with a dome and classic cross. But, upon the death of the architect Pierre Contant d’Ivry in 1777, it was decided that the plans be scrapped and the designer Guillaume-Martin Couture based his new idea on the Roman Pantheon.
All this was well and good but, by the time the Revolution came around in 1789, only the foundations had been finished. The project took a break, while it was decided what was to become of La Madeleine. It took until 1806 for Napoleon to make a decision. He wanted the site to house a “Temple to the Glory of the Great Army” so, once again, the foundations were razed, and building work started once again. BUT, the project was cursed (again) because it had been made redundant by the construction of the Arc de Triomphe in 1808. Poor Madeleine.
After 1814, the time of the French Restoration, King Louis XVIII decided to go back to the original idea of, yes, a church. So close, yet not quite, the architect died, and there was a brief moment of doubt as to whether or not the site should be turned into a train station. But thankfully, in 1842, the building was completed and finally consecrated as a church. Phew!
Now, the Greco-Roman temple with her tall Corinthian columns is a popular location for tourists taking photos outside, but not nearly enough dare to go in. And yet, when you visit the website, you’ll see this is exactly what the curé (vicar) laments:
“Most people that you see in the street don’t live around here [offices have taken over]. To respond to this evolution, the Parish of la Madeleine is seeking to create a visible presence in the heart of Paris, to be available to listen to the people. We speaks of a ‘pedestal’ when describing the large blocks of stone that form the base of this church, but this ‘pedestal’ is also made of living stones, such as charities that help those who are struggling in life.” (translated)
The Parish at La Madeleine is very invested in helping associations: with soup kitchens, a cyber café, employment workshops and other charitable events alongside prayer groups and mass.
So, don’t feel intimidated about entering. They really do want to encourage more people to come, visit, and learn more about the church. The interior is really quite stunning, with three domes, ceiling fresco, celebrated pipe organ and a beautiful statue of St Mary Magdalene by Charles Marochetti.
For those who wish to attend a service, mass is on the following days:
Sunday, 9.30am, 11am and 6pm
Don’t stop there! See even more of Paris’ stunning churches on a Notre Dame Towers and Sainte-Chapelle Tour. Just see how much fun these guys are having!