L'église-de-la-Madeleine, or L'église-Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (or simply La Madeleine), is a church in le VIII ème arrondissement of Paris that was designed as a temple to the glory l'armée de Napoléon.
Two false starts were made on building a church on this site. The first design, commissioned in 1757 with construction begun in 1764, was by Pierre Contant d'Ivry, and was based on Mansart's Late Baroque church of Les Invalides, with a dome surmounting a Latin cross. In 1777 d'Ivry died and he was replaced by Guillaume-Martin Couture, who decided to start anew, razing the incomplete construction and basing his new design on the Roman Pantheon. At the start of the Revolution, however, only the foundations had been finished and work was discontinued, while debate simmered as to what purpose the building might serve in Revolutionary France: a library, a ballroom, and a marketplace were all suggested.
In 1806 Napoléon made his decision, commissioning Pierre-Alexandre Barthélémy Vignon (1763-1828) to build une Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée (Temple to the Glory of the Great Army), with Vignon basing his design on an antique temple. The then-existing foundations were razed and work begun anew. With completion of l' Arc de Triomphe in 1808, the original commemorative role for the temple was blunted. After the fall of Napoléon, with the Catholic reaction during the Restoration, King Louis XVIII determined that the structure would be used as a church. Vignon died in 1828 before completing the project and was replaced by Jacques-Marie Huvé. In 1837 it was briefly suggested that the building might best be utilized as a train station, but the building was finally consecrated as a church in 1842.
La Madeleine is built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by the Maison Carrée at Nîmes (in the south of France) the best-preserved of all Roman temples. Its 52 Corinthian columns, each 20 metres high, are carried around the entire exterior of the building. The pediment is adorned by a sculpture by Lemaire of the Last Judgement, and the church's bronze doors bear reliefs representing the Ten Commandments.
Inside, the church has a single nave with three domes, lavishly gilded in a decor inspired by Renaissance artists. At the rear of the church, above the high altar, stands a statue by Charles Marochetti depicting Saint Mary Magdalene being carried up to heaven by two angels. The half-dome above the altar is covered with a fresco by Jules-Claude Ziegler, entitled The History of Christianity, showing the key figures in the Christian religion with - perhaps inevitably - Napoléon occupying center stage.
La Madeleine is affiliated with a Benedictine abbey, and masses and the most fashionable weddings in Paris are still celebrated here.
To its south lies la Place de la Concorde, to the east is la Place Vendôme, and to the west L'église Saint-Augustin.
Frommer's Memorable Walks in Paris