Its sculptures, its immense narthex, its nave and a subtlety of the light that bathes its interior make the Basilica of Vézelay a unique architectural masterpiece of Romanesque art.
Basilique de Vézelay
Website – tel : 03 86 33 39 50.
Open daily : 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
From June to September, concerts of sacred music are held in the basilica
Organized tours of the basilica
Guided visits by a monk or a nun (duration: 1 hour), Tuesday to Sunday in July and August. Otherwise, from April to October, on Sunday.
Guided tours with a guide-lecturer. Some tours in English, German or Italian. For days and times, information is available at the Tourist Office.
Audio guided tour of the basilica and the village
See "Tourist Office".
Maison du Visiteur
Place Guillon, 89450 Vézelay
Website - tel : 03 86 32 35 65.
Full price/ reduced price: €8/€6. Child (7 to 12 years old) : €3.50.
Lecture tour with audiovisual elements and small-scale models of the basilica. In the summer, tours are adapted for the whole family.
Restored by Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century using ancient documents, it has three portals surmounted by a gable. The latter features statues of Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Andrew, John the Baptist, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Benedict between the bays that illuminate the inside of the narthex (the end of the nave, on the side of the facade).
In its upper part, Christ is presented seated, holding the book of Gospels (the statue is no longer there), and one can still see the angels crowning him, as well as the Virgin (on his right) and Mary Magdalene (on his left). The only tower of the facade, the Saint Michael Tower, the other never having been built, was constructed in the 14th century in a Gothic style. Visitors can enjoy a beautiful panorama from the terrace of the tower, accessible from the narthex.
The tympanum of the central portal
The tympanum shows scenes of the Last Judgment. Even if it is not an original work (the one we see today was completed in 1856), it correctly resembles representations of the period, in a neo-Romanesque style.
In the detailing : At the center, Christ in Majesty opens his arms. At his feet, the Archangel Michael carries out the weighing of souls, and is accompanied by a devil and the damned heading towards hell, swallowed by the Leviathan. On the same level, on the left, the elected access heaven and the heavenly Jerusalem.
The abundance of light entering the basilica is not a coincidence. The structure was built and oriented so that the divine light would subtly enter the center of the nave. Every year on June 21st (the summer solstice) at noon, sunlight enters through the south side windows and forms a cross in the middle of the nave, guiding pilgrims directly to the choir.
This huge and beautiful narthex, a place for of welcoming pilgrims, was erected after the nave in 1150. Its architectural organization follows that of the nave : it is composed of three vessels and three bays. The capitals of the four imposing cruciform pillars depict scenes from the Old Testament and the Gospels.
Three gates open onto the nave of the basilica. They are topped with beautifully carved tympanums :
The tympanum of the right portal chronicles the birth and childhood of Christ (Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity and Adoration of the Magi) and on the left, scenes of the Resurrection. But it is the central tympanum (the Pentecostal Tympanum) that commands attention, featuring a true masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art. It is dedicated to the creation of the Church. Christ in Majesty presides over the organization of the ensemble. Note the expression of Christ and the "movement" of his clothes. He is shown blessing the 12 apostles who are responsible for spreading the faith throughout the world through the Sacred book they hold in their hands. Different civilizations of the world are represented in the eight compartments distributed in a semicircle around the tympanum. This theme is unique in Romanesque art. At the left foot of Christ, Saint Paul and Saint Peter, Christ’s messengers, are represented guiding the peoples located on the header toward their conversion to Christianity . In the arches surrounding the tympanum, the zodiac signs are shown alternately with the monthly works.
John the Baptist is represented on the pier of the great central portal holding a tray on which the Mystic Lamb was carved (damaged).
The nave is impressive in its size and the perspective it provides. At 62 meters long and 18 meters high, it is a true jewel of Romanesque art, carried out in 1140. The alley has 10 bays and two side aisles. The entire building was designed to bathe the nave in light. This luminosity is unique for a Romanesque church. The columns are topped with finely carved capitals, reflecting the expertise of Bourguignon stonemasons. The sculptures on the 118 capitals are like a Bible of stone. The themes covered are very diverse : biblical, mythological or mystical. Among these wonders, of note in particular is the sculpture of the Mystic Mill (4th pillar on the right), which represents Moses pouring the grain of the first covenant into the mill of Saint Paul.
The choir and the chevet
Created at the end of the 12th century, their Gothic architecture allows them to let in more light in the nave and gives the structure a sense of verticality (the choir is higher than the nave). The choir’s decoration is very austere. The ambulatory consists of nine chapels that surround the choir.
The transept was constructed during the same period as the choir, at the end of the 12th century, in an early Gothic style. On the south side, it opens to the chapter house and the cloister.
The crypt, located beneath the present choir, dates back to the Carolingian period (9th century). Later, the choir was slightly raised to preserve this space. It houses the relics of Saint Madeleine, reintroduced in the 19th century.
Vézelay, the starting point of the route of Saint Jacques
Vézelay is, along with Puy, Paris and Arles, one of the four historic departure points along the pilgrimage route of Saint Jacques de Compostela.
Obtaining the Créanciale (religious passport)
You can ask for the Créanciale at the rectory during office hours. You can also ask at the Association des Amis de Saint Jacques.
Accommodation for pilgrims
Pilgrims are welcome at the presbytery (behind the store ‘La Pierre d'Angle' to the right of the entrance to the basilica). No reservation required.
Monday : 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. (summer only) / 7:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday to Friday : 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. / 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday : 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. / 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. / 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Sunday : 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. / 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Centre d’accueil des pèlerins Saint Madeleine
26 rue Saint Pierre, 89450 Vézelay
Tel : 03 86 33 22 14.
Bed from €18.
Association des Amis de St Jacques et d'Etudes compostellanes de la Voie de Vézelay (Friends of Saint Jacques Association)
24 Rue Saint-Pierre, 89450 Vézelay
Website - tel : 03 86 32 38 11.