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Vezelay, Mary Magdalene, Hedonism and Pilgrimage


If you've been following this blog you know that when Alison Harris and I set out to cross France we started in Vezelay (well, we started in Paris, but really got to serious walking in Vezelay, which has an accent over the first "e").


My latest column for is about a recent visit–a revisit–to Vezelay, with a few memories about my gluttonous past, and this observation about the Church, the current pope, the original Francis (from Assisi), and more… click below to keep reading.

Over the doors three tympanums crawled with figures. The almond-shaped center one showed Christ surrounded by Apostles and strange beings ready for induction into the Universal Church. Giants and pygmies, dog-headed men and others with huge ears: the message was clear. All are welcome-sinners, miscreants like me, pagans, heathens and creatures only part human. This is Mary Magdalene's basilica. She had been a prostitute.

It dawned on me why Vézelay's central tympanum should resemble an almond or vulva. Hadn't Mary's first profession depended on the forbidden fruit? The cult of the Virgin, virginity, chastity and abstinence had come late to the church, ditto the rule against married priests, and women in the clergy. The reformed party boy Saint Francis of Assisi had come to Vézelay in its heyday. Maybe it was time for jocular Pope Francis to make a pilgrimage into the future by rediscovering the past?

Miracles happen, we're assured.



“Evocative and moving… Downie’s quest is unconventional in tone and spirit as well as route. A lively wordsmith, Downie brings a deep and impassioned knowledge of French history, culture, and language to this pilgrimage. He also brings something more, a longing that he himself can’t pin down at the beginning… they encounter a memorable succession of taciturn, deep-rooted local farmers and gregarious, transplanted-from-Paris innkeepers. They also encounter the multi-layered, interweaving pathways of French history, commerce, religion, and spirituality—and manage to tuck in a few sumptuous celebrations of French food and wine, too. The result is an extraordinary account that illuminates France past and present and casts a light on something even greater: the truth that, however we choose to label our journey, we are all pilgrims on a common quest, to answer why we wander life’s question-paved path.” (Don George – National Geographic Traveler )

All photos except book cover: copyright Alison Harris

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Published inAlison Harris photographyBasilica of Mary MagdaleneFranceParis to the PyreneesParis to the Pyrenees book tour spring 2013Pinot Noir Burgundy Food Wine Terroir GuideRed Bicyclette Gallo Burgundy Food Wine Pinot NoirUS Book Tour April/May 2013wine