Three Weeks from La Madeleine (Dennis Aubrey)


Three weeks from today we will be in Vézelay and photographing the Basilique Sainte Madeleine. This is when we know we are in France; we have dinner at the Crispol hotel overlooking the valley with the basilica in the distance. We drive up the back roads to the basilica, carrying in our equipment and photographing the most beautiful Romanesque church in the world.

The sunset view across the valley to the Basilique Sainte Madeleine atop the hilltop village of Vézelay

The sunset view across the valley to the Basilique Sainte Madeleine atop the hilltop village of Vézelay

Every trip begins the same way and every time we feel the same deep relief and happiness to be back among our beautiful churches.

Side aisle to ambulatory, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Side aisle to ambulatory, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

I have written before of the extraordinary sensations that we have experienced at the Basilique Sainte Madeleine. PJ has described emerging from a crypt into the lighted church and experiencing the sensation of birth, or rebirth. In Vézelay, we sense much the same thing in the anticipation of leaving the narthex and entering into the “paradise” of the church itself.

Narthex,  Basilique Sainte Madeleine,Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by PJ McKey

Narthex, Basilique Sainte Madeleine,Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

We have seen over and over how many of the people we meet have a profound attachment to their church and to the saint for whom the church is named. PJ and I feel this; we refer to the basilica as “Madeleine” and we have a close attachment to her. We feel her presence as a person, not as a church. Except for her intervention, I am not sure that PJ and I would be together today.

North side aisle, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

North side aisle, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Madeleine is beauty to the eye, a perfect combination of a Romanesque nave finished with a beautiful Gothic apse. The builders who merged these two different styles created a unique structure where the rounded Romanesque arcades covered with their groin vaults lead us inexorably to the ogive-arched hemicycle arcade, tribunes and clerestory with their ribbed oven vault. In the wonderful words of Sartell Prentice, the Basilique Sainte Madeleine is “twilight beneath the groin vault of the Romanesque nave; midday in the Gothic apse”.

Apse, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Apse, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Every evening the Franciscan community celebrates a vespers mass. This is the only church where I attend mass, and it is surely because of the beauty of the music in the great stone interior, where the sound seems to caress the stone.

Afternoon mass in Vézelay

Afternoon mass in Vézelay

The church is filled with the most magnificent sculpture – the capitals are world-famous and the narthex tympanum is a masterpiece. The Christ of that tympanum is unique; this is not the stern and forbidding symbol of the Last Judgment but a welcoming Christ, arms open, embracing the pilgrims of the world.

Narthex, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne)  Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Narthex, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Finally, if you want to know what Vézelay means to us, you might be interested in watching this extraordinary sermon by Gordon Stewart where he reads from our post “Elle Chante, Pere.” The segment begins exactly at the 3:00 minute mark.

Location:  47.466317° 3.749021°

18 responses to “Three Weeks from La Madeleine (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. thank you, Dennis for providing my very beautiful church service on this early morning Sunday in April. Your words touched my heart.
    On a lighter note, do have a safe and beautiful trip. I look forward to your visits around France and especially to what it seems is your favorite church.
    By this time next Sunday I will be halfway between Arizona and Montana as my world shifts from the deserts of the southwest to the beautiful lush atmosphere of Western Montana in the springtime.
    Enjoy your days in France. I will be with you in spirit.

  2. Wonderful photos, Dennis (as usual). We had a nephew married there a few years ago. On our most recent visit we discovered we’d arrived on Mary Magdalene’s Day, so joined in the procession around the village.

  3. I am so excited for you and PJ on a personal level, and for all of us readers for your forthcoming efforts. I am so looking forward to your posts! Bon voyage!

    • Thanks, Holly. We finished working on the equipment this weekend. Cameras and lenses cleaned and prepped, batteries charged, cases packed and ready to go. PJ will start packing her personal belongings in about a week, and like usual, I’ll pack the night before:)

  4. Dennis,
    Another wonderful post that brought back so many beautiful memories. We arrived in Vezelay on a Saturday afternoon and checked into our rooms at a small inn just down the street. We wandered up to the basilica just at the Vespers service was beginning. The haunting chant of the nuns and priests/brothers were the perfect complement to a church we had admired through photographs for years before our visit. Mass the next morning will forever be fixed in my memory as a special liturgy. I broke my own personal rule of not photographing during a liturgy when a nun, acting as a eucharistic minister stood distributing the Eucharist in the light beam shining through one of the basilica memories (I think I furnished this image to you several years ago as an example of one of my favorite images). I didn’t hear the stones singing, but I could have spent hours just taking in the thousands of sights of stones and light.
    Several years ago my wife and I took our two grandsons on a five-week trip through some of our favorite sights (churches) in Spain, France and Italy. They were 10 and 12 that summer. I told my wife that I wanted them to see these things we loved while they were old enough to remember them, but young enough to listen to and believe what we told them. We traveled by car and train to more than 40 churches – focusing mainly on “great” churches and historic structures in Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Barcelona, Valencia, Carcasonne, Nimes, Arles, Avignon, Milan, Florence, Siena, Pisa, and Rome. Not only was it a wonderful re-visitation for us, but it was great to see these familiar places through their eyes. We gave them each digital cameras before the trip and told them to photograph anything they wished. They captured some wonderful images that we had overlooked, and one of their images (of Brunelleschi’s dome in Florence) won an award in a state-wide photography competition for students. Unfortunately Vezelay was not on our itinerary for that trip, but our experience there is relived every time we spend quiet time in an ancient church anywhere.
    Jay Fredrich

    • Jay, how lucky your grandsons were to have you taken them on the trip through Spain, France and Italy. My father was a soldier in the US Army and we were stationed for seven years in France. We benefited so greatly from his insistence that we live on “the economy” among the French, outside of the world of the military. My formative years were guided by those experiences and I am in my parents debt forever.

      Thanks for your contributions to Via Lucis through your comments and your reflections. These are the reason that we do Via Lucis, to engage with others on this level.

  5. Dennis,
    That you would see fit to include the sermon in your post means the world to me. Retirement is a bit strange. Reading your post assures me it was not all for naught. Enjoy your return to this magnificent place. Perhaps someday Kay and I might join you in listening to the stones.

    • Gordon, we miss going to see your sermons on You Tube; I guess we considered you our pastor in absentia. And your sermon on Vézelay moves us greatly. Honestly, it is almost like the words are not mine, but I am hearing them for the first time.

      PJ and I would love to spend time in these churches with you and Kay, Gordon. Frankly, little else would give me that much pleasure.

      • I just shared with Kay your reply about spending time together int these churches. Here eyes grew wide and she said, “When can we do it? We need to make a plan.” When and how might we make that work?

      • Dennis and PJ, I just posted a piece that uses your post and your description of the one capital “The Punishment of the Talkative” in the title of the post: “The Punishment and Rescue of the Talkative.” Hope it meets your approval.

  6. Dear Dennis Aubrey, enjoy your trop to Vezelay. You’ll see the new restored Vezelay with bright colors. See you, Guy L.

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