Sunday, February 22, 2015

Marseille's churches hold some surprising touches

Notre-Dame de la Garde, la bonne mère
You wouldn't guess it by the number of photographs of churches I take, but I am rather ambivalent about houses of worship. The gawdier the church, the more I roll my eyes. However, I am inexplicably drawn to entering nearly every eglise I come across, and in France, nearly every village has a church with an unlocked door. The city of Marseille has lots of churches, and so on our recent visit there, my sister and I dutifully peeked inside nearly each one we passed. And we found some pleasant surprises.

Notre-Dame de la Garde

Walking up to Notre-Dame de la Garde
Probably the best known of Marseille's churches is Notre-Dame de la Garde. Perched high on a hill, it is the city's premiere landmark. We enjoyed the walk to this church and we admired the views from the terrace surrounding the cathedral.

The Neo-Byzantine was in built in the 1800s on the site of another church of the same name. The limestone from Florence, Italy, used in its construction is subject to atmospheric corrosion, and extensive work has been done to maintain the limestone, along with mosaics damaged by candle smoke and the bullets fired during the liberation of Marseille at the end of World War II.

Notre-Dame de la Garde is built on the foundations of a 16th-century fort.
A 27-foot statue of Madonna and Child, made of bronze
gilded with gold leaf, sits atop the square bell tower at
Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Colorful interior of Notre-Dame de la Garde
The boats and planes hanging from the ceiling in
Notre-Dame de la Garde are a refreshing touch.
Bullet holes on an exterior wall of Notre-Dame de la Garde, courtesy
of the liberation of Marseille.

Heavenly view of Marseille from Notre-Dame de la Garde

Sainte Marie Majeure

This enormous cathedral, also known as La Nouvelle Major (or just La Major) was conceived by Prince Louis Napoleon Bonapart in order to get on the good side of the Catholics. Its distinct green and white striped stones (one website calls them "snazzy") foreshadow its grandiose interior: a mix of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic styles.

Sainte Marie Majeure, "La Major," is a huge cathedral at the edge of
Marseille's Old Port

Interior of Sainte Marie Majeure

A replica of Sainte Marie Majeure is constructed of matchsticks

A portion of the large creche at Sainte Marie Majeure

Saint Ferréol les Augustins

This church, likened by some to a wedding cake, is built on marshy ground at the Old Port. The building dates back to the 15th century, but it has been mostly rebuilt. Its façade was built in the late 19th century.

Saint Ferréol les Augustins

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Legend says that Christain monk and theologian John Cassian founded two his-and-her abbeys back in 415. If true, Abbaye Saint-Victor would have been the men's church. Although Cassian probably didn't found the original Abbaye Saint-Victor, its roots date back to the fifth century. The original structure is long gone, destroyed by the Saracens in the 8th or 9th century. It was rebuilt a few centuries later and has a long history, which I won't attempt to tell here. (The churche's website has more details, if you're interested.) 

Its dark, heavy history is reflected in its interior, dank but refreshingly simple.

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Abbaye Saint-Victor

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Known as Les Réformés, architects of this Roman Catholic church took inspiration from the Reims and Amiens cathedrals.

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

Le Temple Protestant

I didn't go inside, but I appreciate the simplicity of Marseille's Protestant temple. It took just 14 months to build this austere church, located on rue Grignan. It was completed in 1824.

Unadorned pediment on Marseille's Protestant Temple on rue Grignan

Exterior detail of Le Temple Protestant

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