Vezelay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Route of Santiago de Compostela in France. Recently, I traveled to the picturesque Vino con Vista village of Vezelay France in the Yonne department in northern Burgundy where Bourgogne Vezelay is the local wine appellation.
“In the Middle Ages, the village of Vezelay was one of Europe’s most sacred places. In about 1050, local monks claimed they had acquired the miracle-working bones of St Mary Magdalene.
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This town has a magnificent Basilica on the route called Santiago de Compostela with the remains of Saint Mary Magdalene.
The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is the last of the pilgrim churches that stretch along the Christian Pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees to Galicia in Spain. It is said to house the remains of the apostle St. James. Work began on the church in 1075 during the reign of King Alphonse VI, under the direction of Bishop Diego de Pelaez. The church was consecrated in 1211. The Baroque facade forms part of the Plaza del Obradoiro, a large square surrounded by public buildings.
This pilgrimage has been done for centuries by pious pilgrims who converged there from all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages on their way to Santiago de Compostela, at the foot of the St. James the Apostle’s tomb in Spain.
Santiago’s city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Praza do Obradoiro is a wide city plaza that contains the medieval Cathedral of St. James (also known as Santiago). The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is one of the most famous sites for religious pilgrimages in Spain. You can visit the Museo das Pergrinacions (Museum of Pilgrimage). In this town you should also consider a visit to the Museo do Pobo Galego (Museum of Galician People).
Saint James, the brother of St. John the Evangelist, is the patron saint of Spain. His remains are in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. His feast day is on July 25th. The traditional pilgrimage to the grave of the saint, known as the “Way of St. James“, has been the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics since the Early Middle Ages.
He was the first Apostle to be martyred. It is believed that the completion of the pilgrimage will forgive all of your sins.
Pilgrimages were an essential part of western European spiritual and cultural life in the Middle Ages. The routes that they took were equipped with facilities for the spiritual and physical well-being of pilgrims. Watch this UNESCO video to better understand this pilgrimage: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/868/video This was the first officially recognized “European Cultural Route” in 1987: the Way of St. James route (The French Way) to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
“The Route of St James of Compostela has preserved the most complete material record in the form of ecclesiastical and secular buildings, settlements both large and small, and civil engineering structures. This Route played a fundamental role in facilitating the two-way interchange of cultural developments between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe during the Middle Ages.” UNESCO
Although there are three basic Christian pilgrimage routes in Europe; the other two pilgrimage routes, to Jerusalem and Rome, are not organized in the same manner.
“In addition to its enormous historical and spiritual value, the route represents a remarkable display of European artistic and architectural evolution over several centuries. The different pilgrimage routes that converged on Santiago de Compostela, are lined with works of art and architectural creations. The cultural heritage represents the birth of Romanesque art; Gothic cathedrals and monasteries. The four main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in France began at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles respectively, and each of these was fed by a number of subsidiary routes. The French routes include: Regions of Aquitaine, Auvergne, Basse-Normandie, Bourgogne, Centre, Champagne-Ardenne, Ile-de-France, Languedoc-Roussillon, Limousin, Midi-Pyrénées, Picardie, Poitou-Charentes, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
To reach Spain pilgrims had to pass through France, using specific routes with important historical monuments. Here’s a series of pictures of the pilgrimage stops along the routes: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/868/
Here’s the UNESCO inscription:
The Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela played a key role in religious and cultural exchange and development during the later Middle Ages, and this is admirably illustrated by the carefully selected monuments on the routes followed by pilgrims in France. The spiritual and physical needs of pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compostela were met by the development of a number of specialized types of edifice, many of which originated or were further developed on the French sections.
After Jerusalem was captured by the Caliph Omar in 638, Christians were hesitant about going to the Holy City as pilgrims. Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of the apostle St James the Great, who brought Christianity to the Iberian peninsula, had been founded around 800, benefited from the decline of Jerusalem as a pilgrimage centre.
Santiago began as a local religious centre, becoming the See of a bishopric around 900, but its renown grew rapidly after the visit in 951 of Godescalc, Bishop of Le Puy and one of the first foreign pilgrims to be recorded. From the 11th century onwards, pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela reached its apogee. Thousands of pilgrims, among them kings and bishops, travelled long distances to pray at the tomb of one of Christ’s closest companions. This flowering coincided with that of the Cluniac Order, which encouraged the worship of relics by publishing Lives of the Saints and Collections of Miracles. From the 11th-13th centuries ‘staging post’ churches developed along the pilgrimage route, and in particular in France.
The four main pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostela in France began at Paris, Vézelay, Le Puy, and Arles respectively, and each of these was fed by a number of subsidiary routes. Thus, the start of the Paris route saw the convergence of routes from Boulogne, Tournai, and the Low Countries, while routes from Caen, Mont-Saint-Michel, and Brittany joined it at intermediate points such as Tours, Poitiers, Saint-Jean d’Angély and Bordeaux (the port for pilgrims coming by sea from England and coastal areas of Brittany and Normandy). Le Puy was the link with the Rhône valley, whereas those coming from Italy passed through Arles. The three western routes converged at Ostabat, crossing the Pyrenees by means of the Ibaneta pass, while the eastern route from Arles used the Somport pass; the two routes joined in Spain at Puente-la-Reina.
The places of worship along the pilgrimage routes in France range from great structures such as Saint-Sernin at Toulouse or Amiens Cathedral to parish churches. All are included either because they figure on the guide produced by Aymeric Picaud (Saint-Front Cathedral at Périgueux or the Church of Saint-Léonard de-Noblat) or because they contain important relics and other material that connect them directly with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Certain churches exhibit architectural characteristics that permit them to be given the appellation of ‘pilgrimage churches’. Sainte-Foy at Conques, Saint-Sernin at Toulouse, and the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela itself in particular have in common large transepts and apsidal chapels ranged round a spacious ambulatory, designed to meet the liturgical needs of pilgrims.
Pilgrimages in the Middle Ages imposed considerable hardships on the pilgrims, such that they were often in need of medical treatment and care. Few of these survive intact on the French sections of the route and are included in the World Heritage site. A number of bridges are known as ‘pilgrims’ bridges’, and that over the Borade at Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac even has the figure of a pilgrim carved on it. Of special importance are the Pont du Diable over the Hérault at Aniane, one of the oldest medieval bridges in France, and the magnificent 14th-century fortified Pont Valentré over the Lot at Cahors.
While the course of the different routes is generally known, very little of them survive in anything approaching their original form. The seven stretches included in the site are all on the Le Puy route, and cover a little over 20% of its total length. These are relatively minor roads whose course has not changed significantly since the Middle Ages; they are also lined with monuments associated with the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, such as crosses and modest places of worship.”
The pilgrimage begins at Romanesque Vezelay Abbey. The Basilica of St. Mary Magdalene Basilique (Sainte-Marie-Madeleine) dominates the hilly Burgundy landscape.
Walk in the footsteps of the pilgrims and the Crusaders at the Vezelay Abbey. It has a long history of links to the Crusades.
The church was dedicated on April 21, 1104. It became such a popular pilgrimage site that Pope Innocent II extended the narthex to accomodate them in 1132.
Crusaders gathered around Saint Bernard of Clairvaux when he preached for a 2nd Crusade on Easter 1146, in the presence of King Louis VII. Saint Bernard was canonized by Pope Alexander III on January 18, 1174.In 1190, Richard I of England (Richard the Lion-Hearted) and Phillip II of France spent three months here before leaving for the 3rd Crusade. The church was sacked by the Huguenots in 1569 and severely damaged during the French Revolution. Benedictines were given land to build a monastery. According to legend, not long before the end of the first millennium, a monk named Baudillon brought relics (bones) of Mary Magdalene to Vézelay from Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.
When you climb the hill to the Basilica you will notice the shells on the street. Climb the crest to the summit of the hill climbed by millions of pilgrims as they make their way to Compostella Spain to venerate the remains of St. James, the Apostle. For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James), “seeking penance, enlightenment, and adventure.” Santiago de Compostela was proclaimed the first European Cultural itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987. There are about 1,800 historic buildings along the route.
The shells on the street indicate that this is the Way of Saint James; the Camino de Santiago. Four major routes through France lead to the Spanish Cathedral in Galicia including: Paris through Tours (Via Turonensis), Vézelay (Via Lemovicensis) and Le Puy-en-Velay.
When I climbed the steep slope to the magnificent church, I saw many pilgrims on their way into
the Basilica. When I entered the church, they had congregated in the narthex under the central tympanum and began praying. The tympanum depicts a benevolent Christ with arms wide open, flanked on both sides by his Apostles conveying his message to them. He is sending the Crusaders out; they were guaranteed remission of their sins if they participated in the Crusades.
I followed the pilgrims into the church where they walked over to the staircase next to the statue of Saint Mary Magdelene. When they walked down the stairs, they arrived at her shrine with her relics. They began praying and singing. Although I have been to Lourdes and Fatima, I can honestly say that this was one of the most moving spiritual displays of faith that I have ever witnessed.
Saint Mary Magdalene was recognized by early church fathers as “the apostle to the apostles”. According to the Gospel, she “stood in the presence of the risen Jesus and went to tell the other disciples the news of the Resurrection”.
Shortly after its foundation in the 9th century, the Cluniac Benedictine abbey of Vezelay acquired the relics of St. Mary Magdalene and has been an important pilgrimage ever since. Her relics were transfered from her sepulchre in the Dominican oratory of Saint Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume at Aix en Provence to protect them from the Saracens. In 1058, Pope Stephen IX, confirmed the authenticity of the relics, leading to an influx of pilgrims that has continued to this day.
“The tradition whereby the Apostle St James the Great preached the Gospel in Spain dates from the early 7th century. In the Latin Breviary of the Apostles, St Jerome held that apostles were buried where they preached, and so it was assumed that the body of St James had been moved from Jerusalem, where according to the Acts of the Apostles he was martyred on the order of Herod Agrippa, to a final resting place in Spain. It was not until the 9th century that the apostle’s tomb was identified at Compostela. The late 8th century saw the consolidation of the Christian kingdom of Galicia and Asturias in northern Spain, with the support of Charlemagne. It was to provide the base for the reconquest of the peninsula from Muslim domination, a process that was not to be completed until 1492. The apostle had been adopted as its patron saint by the Christian kingdom. In the early years of the 9th century, during the reign of Alfonso II, his tomb was ‘discovered’ in a small shrine by the hermit Pelayo and Todemiro, bishop of the most westerly diocese in the kingdom.”
“There are two access routes into Spain from France, entering at Roncesvalles (Valcarlos Pass) and Canfranc (Somport Pass) respectively; they merge west of Pamplona, just before Puente la Reina. It passes through 166 towns and villages, and it includes over 1,800 buildings of historic interest; in many cases the modern road runs parallel to the ancient route. The tradition of pilgrimage to Santiago has not ceased since that time, although its popularity waned in recent centuries. Since it was declared to be the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987, however, it has resumed the spiritual role that it played in the Middle Ages, and every year sees many thousands of pilgrims following it on foot or bicycle.” UNESCO
UNESCO Historical Description
“The tradition whereby the apostle St James the Great preached the gospel in Spain dates from the early 7th century, in the Latin Breviary of the Apostles. St Jerome held that apostles were buried where they preached, and so it was assumed that the body of St James had been moved from Jerusalem, where according to the Acts of the Apostles, he was martyred on the order of Herod Agrippa, to a final resting place in Spain.
It was not until the 9th century that the apostle’s tomb was identified at Compostela. The late 8th century saw the consolidation of the Christian kingdom of Galicia and Asturias in northern Spain, with the support of Charlemagne. It was to provide the base for the reconquest of the peninsula from Muslim domination, a process that was not to be completed until 1492. The apostle had been adopted as its patron saint by the Christian kingdom, and in the early years of the 9th century, during the reign of Alfonso II, his tomb was “discovered” in a small shrine by the hermit Pelayo and Todemiro, Bishop of the most westerly diocese in the kingdom.
The fame of the tomb of St James, protector of Christendom, quickly spread across western Europe and it became a place of pilgrimage, comparable with Jerusalem and Rome. By the beginning of the 10th century pilgrims were coming to Spain on the French routes from Tours, Limoges, and Le Puy, and facilities for their bodily and spiritual welfare began to be endowed along what gradually became recognized as the formal pilgrimage route, whilst in Compostela itself a magnificent new basilica was built to house the relics of the apostle, along with other installations – churches, chapels, hospices, and hospitals. The 12th century saw the Route achieve its greatest influence, used by thousands of pilgrims from all over Western Europe. In 1139 the first “guidebook” to the Route appeared, in the form of Book V of the Calixtine Codex (attributed to Pope Calixtus II but most probably the work of the pilgrim Ayrneric Picaud), describing its precise alignment from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela and listing the facilities available to pilgrims. These structures, ranging from humble chapels and hospices to magnificent cathedrals, represent every aspect of artistic and architectural evolution from Romanesque to Baroque and beyond, demonstrating the intimate linkages between faith and culture in the Middle Ages. The establishment of the pilgrimage route inevitably led to its adoption as a commercial route, resulting in economic prosperity for several of the towns along its length.
The tradition of pilgrimage to Santiago has not ceased since that time, though its popularity waned in recent centuries. Since it was declared to be the first European Cultural Itinerary by the Council of Europe in 1987, however, it has resumed the spiritual role that it played in the Middle Ages, and every year sees many thousands of pilgrims following it on foot or bicycle.”
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides @ www.vino-con-vista.com