We visited this imposing Romanesque basilica on a cold but brilliantly sunny day in February and were entirely on our own as we made our way upwards through the attractive winding streets of medieval Vezelay. Situated at the very top of the only hill in town, the size and scale of the building particularly impress and we had gasped at our first view whilst driving towards the town. There are wonderful views of the surrounding countryside from the rear terracing behind the abbey and also from the walkway around the base of the old town walls. We had hoped to hear the midday offices; arriving well before the advertised time for the half hour service. However all remained quiet and solitary.
We stepped back outside uplifted by the light in the magnificent nave and choir; intrigued by the extraordinary stone carvings on the capitals in the nave and over the main doors; impressed by the beautiful stained glass windows above the main doors and still amazed by the sheer scale of the building so superbly positioned within the landscape.
We were very pleased we had come but were, of course, just a little bit disappointed not to have heard the voices of the monastic community. We wondered if we had just been unlucky or whether they only hold services within the basilica during particular months of the year?
Still one of the starting points for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage the church and the hill were listed as a UNESCO world heritage sites in 1979. Of religious historical importance the abbey has been a site of pilgrimage as the guardian of relics of Mary Magdalene since 1050AD and until 1280 it was also believed that her body was entombed there. In the 12th century, when St Thomas a Becket preached from here, it was said that all France had visited Vezelay. In 1190 Richard the Lionheart departed for the Third Crusade from the town and in 1217 St Francis of Assisi founded a community at the abbey.
Yes, if are in Burgundy it is well worth a visit.
Tip: Quirky cafe Cabulus - just a few steps back down the hill, with it's vaulted ceiling and eccentric decor is worth a coffee stop
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