The nave of the basilica
Day two of our stay in Dijon and we have made a trip to Vézelay, famous for its romanesque basilica dedicated to St Mary Magdalen. When we arrived, it seemed as though we had made a terrible mistake. The narrow street through the village was completely clogged with people and we quickly realised that a procession up to the church, which is located on a high promontory above the village, was underway. It was in fact the saint's day and the procession would surely be followed by a sung High Mass. How long would we have to wait to make our visit? We followed the procession for a while and explored and quickly discounted the idea of overtaking. Recognising defeat we headed back downhill along the now quiet street.
We had noticed however that there was a walk under the ramparts of the town and a plan was quickly formed to do this first and then perhaps have an early lunch. We headed off to the left of main street and were dismayed that the walk was initially just an extension of the car park. Soon however the car park ended and we had the leafy path to ourselves. A piece of very new restoration had resulted in a new town gate in a very jarring pale coloured stone.
We passed a couple of more authentically old looking round towers jutting out from the high walls. This was the Tour des Ursulines.
Now the trees began to thin and splendid views over nearby villages and the surrounding agricultural countryside began to appear.
As we reached the apex of the walk we realised that there was a path inwards towards the church. Surely we might as well have a look at the outside of the church?
A short climb brought us to the east end of the church where restoration work was producing a remarkable change to the colour of the stone. We walked along the side and emerged at the east facade. It was quite imposing and no doubt will be more so when the restoration work gets here.
The abbey was founded in the middle of the 9th century and rebuilt in the 12th after a fire. It had already begin to decline by the end of the 13th century and was in a ruinous state by the time of the Revolution at which point the cloister was destroyed. By 1840 it was in danger of collapse and was only saved when Viollet-le-Duc was commissioned to undertake a great restoration project lasting almost 20 years. It is hard now to be sure what is original. The facade for example was completely rebuilt by Viollet-leDuc
When we arrived the predicted sung Mass was in full swing, but we were surprised and pleased to find that although the nave was completely full of worshippers, we could enter the narthex, or pre-nave, and walk along the side aisles. The narthex contains a remarkable tympanum over the central doorway.
The nave is magnificent (see the picture at the head of this post) and the columns which separate it from the aisles have exquisite capitals.
Just as Mass was ending we concluded our visit and returned to the rampart walk. The return leg was more open with lovely views over the surrounding countryside. We specially enjoyed this little building with its terrace and security light. Was it a refuge for the wine grower whose house and vineyard could be seen below?
Conditions: warm, cloudy, threat of rain.
Distance: at most two miles.
Rating: four and a half stars.