The Sainte Marie-Madeleine church hardly resembles a church and this is explained by a chaotic construction which extends over more than ninety years and by destinations evolving according to the changes of political regime.

The construction of the imposing edifice, which mirrors now the National Assembly, is decided in 1752, replacing the old church in the Faubourg de la Ville l’Evêque, a suburb newly annexed to Paris.

The works stop during the Revolution and are resumed under Napoleon who wants to make it a temple to the glory of the French armies. The plans chosen are those of a neoclassical temple, since it is an almost perfect reproduction of the Olympiaion in Athens. In 1812, for lack of funds, the works cease and Napoleon gives up the project of a temple to the glory of the French armies to return to that of a church.

In 1816, it is King Louis XVIII who once again wishes to change the purpose of the building to make it an expiatory chapel in memory of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, but the latter will ultimately take place a few hundred meters from la Madeleine church.

King Louis-Philippe considers for a moment to make the building a railway station but changes his mind to finally make la Madeleine a church.

The church is finally consecrated in 1845, but its chaotic erection may explain why the Sainte Marie-Madeleine church is never called anything other than “la Madeleine” by Parisians, unlike all the other religious buildings in Paris, which name always include “Saint”, “Holy” or “Our Lady”.

The fresco above the altar is achieved in 1837 by Jules Ziegler. Napoleon appears in the center.

The large, monumental organ, which dates from 1846, is the work of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

The funerals of Frédéric Chopin, Jacques Offenbach, Gabriel Fauré, Joséphine Baker, Marlène Dietrich took place there.

The building looks miserable from the outside – it is being renovated – but the interior is really superb in terms of proportions and chromaticity.

The ephemeral exhibition by Benoît Dutour, “Tears of Joy” which consists of 103 drops suspended 35 meters high is absolutely perfect for the place.

February 24, 2023