The church of St Mary Magdalene (Sainte- Marie-Madeleine) in Paris, generally known simply as the Madeleine, is in the form of a Greek temple of considerable size (108m/354ft long by 43m/141ft wide) surrounded by 54 Corinthian columns 15m/49ft high.
The story of the building of the Madeleine reflects the vicissitudes of French history from the closing years of the Ancien Régime to the bourgeois monarchy of 1830-48.
The foundation-stone of a domed cruciform Baroque church was laid in 1763, in the reign of Louis XV. In the reign of Louis XVI it was decided to alter the plan to a neo-classical church on the model of the Panthéon, which was then under construction, but to give more prominence to the dome. After the Revolution work on the building came to a standstill, and various plans for converting it for use as a stock exchange, parliament building or bank were considered and rejected. In 1806 Napoleon resolved to build a Hall of Fame for the army in the style of the Parthenon in Athens; then, shortly before his abdication, reverted to the idea of a church. After the Restoration Louis XVIII wanted to make it a church of atonement for the Revolution. Finally, in the reign of Louis-Philippe, the church was at last completed in its present form and consecrated in 1842.
In the pediment on the main front is a representation of the Last Judgment (by Philippe- Henri Lemaire, 1833; restored 1991-93). On the bronze door are reliefs related to the Ten Commandments.
The vestibule, the nave and the semicircular choir receive light through three large domes, with fine 19th century sculpture, including François Rude's "Baptism of Christ". In the spandrels are reliefs of the 12 Apostles, and on the high altar is a marble group (1837) representing the assumption of Mary Magdalene into heaven. Over the altar is a gigantic fresco depicting Constantine the Great, Frederick Barbarossa, Joan of Arc, St Louis, Michelangelo, Raphael, Dante, Cardinal Richelieu, Napoleon and other leading figures in western history. There is a famous Cavaillé-Coll organ on which there are periodic recitals.
Place de la Madeleine, 14 rue de Surène, F-75008 Paris, France
7:30am-7pm; Sun: 9:15am-1:30pm; Sat: 9am-7pm
Useful tips: Group visit book one month in advance.
Transit: Metro: Madeleine; Bus: 24, 42, 52, 84, 94.