|70: Basilique de Ste. Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay, France|
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Mystery Worshipper: Anglican't.
The church: Basilique de Ste. Marie-Madeleine, Vézelay, France.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: Built on a site where an abbey was founded in 864, Ste. Marie-Madeleine (11th-13th century) was a major Romanesque pilgrimage church in Burgundy and remains the largest abbey church in France. The relics of St Mary Magdalene are reputed to be housed in its Carolingian crypt. St Bernard of Clairvaux made his impassioned call for the ill-fated Second Crusade in front of this building in 1146.
The neighbourhood: The pretty medieval village of Vézelay (one of the traditional starting-points for the pilgrimage to Compostella) winds up a steep hill, known to the locals as 'la colline éternelle'. On top sits the Basilica of St Mary Magdalen, which is now home to a small community of Franciscan friars and nuns. The village and the immediate area around it also has its own 'appellation controlle' and produces a stylish chardonnay!
The cast: The community.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The community plus about 30 or so worshippers. The church was practically empty, but it is vast, it was a weekday Mass, and on a previous occasion when I worshipped there on a Sunday morning it was half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
So-so. They use chairs which are reasonably comfortable, but in any case the local custom is to stand for a good part of the Mass.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People drifted in quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
'Au nom du Pere, du Fils et du Saint-Esprit.'
What books did the congregation use during the service?
I didn't have a book.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. There were no other instruments. The community sang the Ordinary of the Mass and did so very well. They could do with another bass, but religious orders don't recruit with a view to choral balance! One of the Sisters had a pure, almost vibrato-less and slightly breathy soprano, which reminded me strongly of the lead singer in Clannad.
Did anything distract you?