The Codex Calixtinus (12th century), the oldest 'travel guide' for the Camino de Santiago, mentions Vézelay as one of the four great gathering places for pilgrims in France. You can hardly imagine that now. As you walk up the main street to the famous basilica it is often quiet, except in high season when busloads of tourists pay a lightning visit to the town.
The tympanum on the facade of the basilica is also not really special. It is a copy of the original, badly damaged during the French Revolution, which until recently stood almost carelessly against the side wall of the church.
Only when you enter the basilica can you experience for yourself why Vézelay is still a special, spiritual place for many. The Romanesque tympanum on the porch is unique. It represents the proclamation of faith after the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection. (The first witness was Mary Magdalene, after whom the basilica is named.) Jesus is beautifully portrayed in the center, blessing the apostles and commanding them to convert the nations. Below him is John the Baptist, with the Lamb of God.
Sometimes the large interior doors of the basilica are open. Then behind the half-dark porch the light of the priest's choir beckons.
Several days a year, shortly after the summer solstice (June 21), the porch and the choir are even connected by a path of light that then falls through the precisely placed upper windows.
Six months later, shortly after the winter solstice (December 21), the capitals are highlighted equally.
Both solstices are symbolized by John the Baptist (name day: June 24) and the apostle John (name day: December 27).
So, the basilica is one huge frame story and one big invitation to 'go up to the light'. For many, this makes it a real milestone on their pilgrimage.
The basilica and the hill of Vézelay have been on the Unesco World Heritage list since 1979.
The Maison du Visiteur (EN), halfway up Vézelay's main street, tells the fascinating story of the basilica through a film and scale models.
Before you leave, in the morning, you can receive a pilgrims' blessing. This takes place after the lauds, the mainly sung service -in the basilica or a chapel next to it- by the brothers and sisters of the Fraternités de Jérusalem (FR).
Register for this at the volunteer of the pilgrims' hostel in the Centre Sainte-Madeleine (diagonally opposite the basilica).
More information about Vézelay
- town of Vézelay (FR)
- Les Amis de Vézelay et de sa région (FR)
- Bourgogne grand écrin - Vézelay (EN)
- Vézelay - Les plus beaux villages de France (FR)
- Vézelay - Villes Sanctuaires en France (FR)
- Vézelay - UNESCO World Hertitage List (EN)
- Vézelay - Grands Sites de France (FR)
- La basilique de Vézelay (FR)