VEZELAY, a village of France, in the department of Yonne, 10 m. W.S.W. of Avallon by road. Its population, which was over 10,000 in the middle ages, was 524 in 1906. It is situated on the summit and slopes of a hill on the left bank of the Cure, and owes its renown to the Madeleine, one of the largest and most beautiful basilicas in France. The Madeleine dates from the 12th century and was skilfully restored by Viollet-le-Duc. It consists of a narthex, with nave and aisles; a triple nave, without triforium, entered from the narthex by three doorways; transepts; and a choir with triforium. The oldest portion of the church is the nave, constructed about 1125. Its groined vaulting is supported on wide, low, semicircular arches, and on piers and columns, the capitals of which are embellished with sculptures full of animation. The narthex was probably built about 1140. The central entrance, leading from it to the nave, is one of the most remarkable features of the church; it consists of two doorways, divided by a central pier supporting sculptured figures, and is surmounted by a tympanum carved with a representation of Christ bestowing the Holy Spirit upon His apostles. The choir and transepts are later in date than the rest of the church, which they surpass in height and grace of proportion. They resemble the eastern portion of the church of St Denis, and were doubtless built in place of a Romanesque choir damaged in a fire in 1165. A crypt beneath the choir is perhaps the relic of a previous Romanesque church which was destroyed by fire in 1120. The west facade of the Madeleine has three portals; that in the centre is divided by a pier and surmounted by a tympanum sculptured with a bas-relief of the Last Judgment. The upper portion of this front belongs to the 13th century. Only the lower portion of the northernmost of the two flanking towers is left, and of the two towers which formerly rose above the transept that to the north has disappeared. Of the other buildings of the abbey, there remains a chapter-house (13th century) adjoining the south transept. Most of the ramparts of the town, which have a circuit of over a mile, are still in existence. In particular the Porte Neuve, consisting of two massive towers flanking a gateway, is in good preservation. There are several interesting old nouses, among them one in which Theodore of Beza was born. Of the old parish church, built in the 17th century, the clock-tower alone is left. A mile and a half from Vezelay, in the village of St Pere-sous-Vezelay, there is a remarkable Burgundian Gothic church, built by the monks of Vezelay in the 13th century. The west facade, flanked on the north by a fine tower, is richly decorated; its lower portion is formed of a projecting porch surmounted by pinnacles and adorned with elaborate sculpture.
The history of Vezelay is bound up with its Benedictine abbey, which was founded in the 9th century under the influence of the abbey of Cluny. This dependence was soon shaken off by the younger monastery, and the acquisition of the relics of St Magdalen, soon after its foundation, began to attract crowds of pilgrims, whose presence enriched both the monks and the town which had grown up round the abbey and acknowledged its supremacy. At the beginning of the 12th century the exactions of the abbot Artaud, who required money to defray the expense of the reconstruction of the church, and the refusal of the monks to grant political independence to the citizens, resulted in an insurrection in which the abbey was burnt and the abbot murdered. During the next fifty years three similar revolts occurred, fanned by the counts of Nevers, who wished to acquire the suzerainty over Vezelay for themselves. The monks were, however, aided by the influence both of the Pope and of Louis VII., and the townsmen were unsuccessful on each occasion. During the 12th century V6zelay was the scene of the preaching of the second crusade in 1146, and of the assumption of the cross in 1190 by Richard Cceur de Lion and Philip Augustus. The influence of the abbey began to diminish in 1280 when the Benedictines of St Maximin in Provence affirmed that the true body of St Magdalen had been discovered in their church; its decline was precipitated during the wars of religion of the 16th century, when Vezelay suffered great hardships.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)