Flâneries in Paris: Explore La Madeleine and its Environs

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Flâneries in Paris: Explore La Madeleine and its Environs
This is the fifth in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. An unplanned moment can be unexpectedly uplifting. I popped into La Madeleine on a weekday afternoon and found a choir rehearsing, so I sat down to listen. Thirty or so faces looked past me down the nave, set in the concentration it must take to send such glorious sounds soaring up to the ceiling. Behind them on the altar, the stunning white marble statue, “Mary Magdalene ascending,” portrayed angels lifting Mary to Heaven, all set against the marble pillars and blue and gold fresco on the back wall of the church. The fresco has an unusual element, one which points to the very particular history of La Madeleine as a church which also has secular roots. It illustrates the history of Christianity, but centrally placed among the apostles and saints is someone you don’t expect to find: Napoleon. He is portrayed receiving the Concordat, the agreement signed between him and the pope in 1801, reestablishing church-state relations after the revolution. It’s a reminder that La Madeleine has a place in secular history and plays a prominent role in the life of the city, for example as a favorite venue for society weddings and high-profile funerals. Église de la Madeleine drawing, Henri Le Secq, Public Domain Near the exit, I found more evidence of this duality. The text of Mother Teresa’s life- affirming prayer, which begins “La vie est une chance, saisis-la” (“Life is an opportunity, seize it”) was prominently displayed on a marble slab and just underneath it, at least on the day of my visit, was a little collection of flowers and photographs as a reminder of Johnny Hallyday’s funeral in December 2017. I remembered that a million Parisians lined the streets to throw flowers at the hearse as it made its way to La Madeleine, flanked by bikers on Harley-Davidsons. Chopin’s funeral was also held here, in 1849, amid some controversy. He had requested that Mozart’s requiem be sung, but female voices were required, something which had never been permitted by the church authorities who only relented when it was agreed that they would sing from behind a black velvet curtain. La Madeleine Johnny Hallyday display © Marian Jones

Lead photo credit : Madeleine circa 1890s, Public Domain

More in Flâneries in Paris, La Madeleine, Marché aux Fleurs, Mary Magdalene, Mother Theresa, Napoleon, The Maison de la Truffe, Women who shaped Paris

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Ed Cobleigh
    2022-05-05 07:01:58
    Ed Cobleigh
    Ms. Jones, I thoroughly enjoy your strolls around Paris. Below is a link to the Bonjour Paris edition which features my own attempts at knowing a small part of Paris https://bonjourparis.com/lifestyle/chasing-hemingway-in-paris/


    • Marian Jones
      2022-05-07 12:49:49
      Marian Jones
      Ah yes, Hemingway's Paris. ..... I keep meaning to do as you did, and walk in his footsteps, so I looked up your piece and enjoyed it very much. Thank you too for your kind comments - I'm glad you enjoy the 'strolls'. I did one recently from Saint Sulpice to Saint Germain, which took me right past the 2 Magots, so I hope to write that up as a future flânerie.