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Marseille Cathedral


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Marseille Cathedral


The Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady serves as the cathedral of the Marseille Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in France. “Cathedral” means that the main clergyman in this area (in Marseilles - the archbishop) in this temple offers prayers and reads sermons.

The Archdiocese of Marseille (first the diocese) is one of the very first Roman Catholic territorial units: it was formed in the 1st century AD. Already in the 5th century A.D. the diocese built a church and a baptismal building (baptistery), and now on this site rises a cathedral of the 19th century, in size and splendor not inferior to the famous medieval temples of France.

The Cathedral of Saint-Marie-Major in Marseille as evidence of the city's well-being

In the 12th century, a new cathedral was built on the site of the first church, part of which still stands in the shadow of a large cathedral. Until the middle of the 19th century, it served as a chair for the Marseilles bishops (the highest spiritual ranks), and in the 19th century, the French emperor Napoleon III ordered to demolish it. The inhabitants of Marseille did not allow the ancient temple to be destroyed, but he had to "move over" - they demolished those areas that hindered the construction of an impressive new cathedral.

By the middle of the 19th century, Marseille entered a new stage of development: the colonial policy of the empire brought wealth to the port city. The city was actively built, grew, and the number of parishioners of the Catholic Church grew. The old cathedral was already small and did not boggle the imagination, and in 1852 the first stone of the new cathedral was laid by the emperor himself.

The cathedral was built by 3 architects for over 40 years:

  • Leon Vaudoyer
  • Henri-Jacques Esperandier
  • Henri-Antoine Revual.

The first two did not live to see the end of construction. The last of them, Revual, was engaged in the interior decoration of the temple, personally worked on the mosaic for the altar.

No money was spared on materials for the construction of the new cathedral: white Carrara and green Florentine marble from Italy, onyx for interior work from Tunisia. The walls were built, alternating 2 types of marble: white and green. For its unusual striped design, Saint-Marie-Major was nicknamed “pajamas”.

The new cathedral differed in size. Designed for 3000 parishioners, it occupies most of the area on which it is located. The height of the main dome is 70 meters, and the 2 towers at the entrance are 60 meters. Saint-Marie-Major in scope became the first after the old Gothic cathedrals. The impressive architecture of the building is matched by the rich interior decoration of the cathedral.

Unusual appearance of a French temple: a mixture of Christian east and west

The architectural appearance of the Marseille Cathedral is a mixture of Byzantine and Roman styles with the addition of Gothic. The general view of the temple is rather oriental, more like Greek churches or even mosques. The majestic entrance group with two 60-meter towers on the sides, a high arch, openwork masonry as decoration - everything is surprising in size and richness. At the top, between the towers, there are figures of saints, which is more in line with the Western tradition.

The interior decoration of the cathedral also indicates that the cathedral was built, not counting funds: the interiors are decorated with mosaics according to the Eastern, Byzantine tradition, but the mosaics themselves are made of Venetian glass.

A large number of white marble sculptures and gilded statues create a grand stop. The vaults are lined with marble, which are supported by columns of dark red porphyry. Some sections of the walls and arches are lined, like the outer walls, in two-tone white-green marble.

Colored stained-glass windows on tall windows add color to the interior decor. Everything bears the stamp of significance, conformity to high status. At the same time, the talent of architects and artists filled the entire space of the temple with amazing harmony, beauty and divine inspiration.

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