Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
Sacred Prostitute

Vézelay today

Vézelay today is a charming hilltop town in Burgundy (Bourgogne) famous for its basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (Mary Magdalene). It was a populous town in the Middle Ages when its abbey first held Mary's bones (from around 1050) and when it was one of the four starting points in France for pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella. In 1146, Bernard of Clairvaux launched the Second Crusade from here.

A slow decline began with the discovery in 1279 of competing bones at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence. With the arrival of the Hundred Years War and the Wars of Religion, the population dropped even further and many of the relics were destroyed. It has been a quiet place ever since but it retains its magic. Prosper Mérimée and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc helped save the abbey from collapse in the 19th century.


In recent times, Vézelay was where Romain Rolland and Georges Bataille, two of the most interesting French writers, came to live. Rolland was born nearby (in Nièvre) and he lived in Vézelay in 1937 until his death in 1944. Bataille lived here on and off from 1943 until 1949 and he is buried here. Why did these two dreamers find Vézelay so interesting during that time, when the world was going to hell?

I assume it is because of Mary Magdalene and, arguably, there is textual evidence to support this. They seem to have been drawn to the town's mystical appeal, the sense that it was a center of spiritual strength and resistance and the Magdalene's mix of eroticism and transgression. It is a delicious illusion, but why not? In the same way, the great basilica can be viewed as a ship passing through time.


Upper photo: Grahamec; lower photo: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

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