The following is adapted from "Paris, with Pen and Pencil", by David W. Bartlett:
The Madeleine looks little like a church to the stranger, but more like a magnificent Grecian temple.
An edifice was erected on the spot where the Madeleine stands, in 1659, by Mademoiselle d'Orleans. That building was soon found to be too small for the accommodation of the people in its neighborhood, and in 1764, the present building was commenced by the architect of the duke of Orleans. The revolution put an end for a time to the work upon the church, but Napoleon, after his Prussian campaign, determined to dedicate the Madeleine as a Temple of Glory, "to commemorate the achievements of the French arms, and to have on its columns engraved the names of all those who had died fighting their country's battles."
But Napoleon's plans were frustrated, and in 1815 Louis XVIII. restored the building to its original destination, and ordered that monuments should be erected in it to Louis XVI., Marie Antoinette, Louis XVII., and Mme. Elizabeth. The revolution of 1830, however, interrupted this work, and it was not till the reign of Louis Phillippe, that it was completed. The entire cost of the Madeleine was two millions six hundred and fifteen thousand and eight hundred dollars. It stands on a raised platform, three hundred and twenty-eight feet long and one hundred and thirty-eight broad, and has at each end an approach consisting of twenty-eight steps, the entire length of the facade. The architecture is Grecian, a colonnade of fifty-two Corinthian columns entirely surrounding the building, giving to it a grandeur of appearance to which few structures in Europe attain. Between the columns there are niches, and a row of colossal statues stand in them. They represent St. Bernard, St. Raphael, and a score of others. The colonnade is surmounted by a beautiful piazza, and a cornice adorned with lion's heads and palm leaves.
On entering the Madeleine, the magnificent organ meets the eye of the visitor. On the right, there is a chapel for marriages, with a sculptural group upon it, representing the marriage of the Virgin. On the left, there is a baptismal font, with a sculptured group, representing Christ and St. John at the waters of the Jordan. There are twelve confessionals along the chapels, which, together with the pulpit, are carved out of oak. The walls of the church are lined with the finest marbles, and each chapel contains a statue of the patron saints. The architecture of the interior it is useless for me to attempt to sketch, it is in such a profusely ornamented style. Fine paintings adorn the different chapels. One represents Christ preaching, and the conversion of Mary Magdalene; another the Crucifixion; still another, the supper at Bethany, with the Magdalene at the feet of her Lord. Over the altar there is a very fine painting by Ziegler, which intends to illustrate, by the representation of persons, the events which, in the world's history, have added most to propagate the christian religion, and to exhibit its power over men.
At the southern end, in the center, is a figure of Christ; the Magdalene is beneath in a suppliant attitude; while He is pardoning her sins. On the right hand the angel of Pity gazes down upon the poor woman, with a look of deep satisfaction. On the other hand is the figure of Innocence, surrounded by the angels, Faith, Hope, and Charity. In the angle of the pediment is the figure of an angel greeting the new-born spirit, and raising his hand, points to the place prepared for him in heaven.
On the left of the pediment the angel of Vengeance is repelling the Vices. Hatred is there with swollen features; Unchastity, with disheveled hair and negligent dress, clings to her guilty paramour; Hypocrisy, with the face of a young woman, a mask raised to her forehead, looks down upon the spectator; and Avarice is represented as an old man clinging to his treasures.
The pediment is filled completely by the figure of a demon, which is forcing a damned soul into the abyss of woe. This is the largest sculptured pediment in the world, and occupied more than two years in its execution. The figure of Christ is eighteen feet in length, which will give the reader an idea of the size of the sculpture.
The doors of the Madeleine are worthy of particular notice. They are of bronze, measuring more than thirty feet by sixteen. They are divided into compartments each of which illustrates one of the Ten Commandments. In the first, Moses commands the tables to be obeyed; in the second, the blasphemer is struck; in the third, God reposes after the creation; in the fourth, Joshua punishes the theft of Acham, after the taking of Jericho, etc. etc. The doors were cast in France, and are only surpassed in size by the doors of St. Peter's.
The Magdalene, in a penitent attitude, stands near Christ, while three angels support the cloud upon which she kneels, and a scroll, upon which is written, "She loved much." The Savior holds in his right hand the symbol of redemption, and is surrounded by the apostles. On his left, the history of the early church is illustrated. St. Augustine, the Emperor Constantine, and other personages, are painted. Then follow the Crusades, with St. Bernard and Peter the Hermit, with a group of noblemen following, filled with holy enthusiasm.
The choir of the Madeleine forms a half-circle, and is very richly ornamented. The great altar is splendidly sculptured. The principal group represents the Magdalene in a rapturous posture, borne to heaven on the wings of angels. A tunic is wrapped around her body, and the long hair with which she wiped her Savior's feet. This group of sculpture alone cost one hundred and fifty thousand francs.
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