Paris is full of junctions where many roads meet at a circular plaza. When you turn the corner from the Orangerie, at the end of the Tuileries, you cannot but be amazed at one of these, which, at first glance, seems to hold a Greek temple. At the Place du Concord one finds L'église de la Madeleine, a great Neo-Classical edifice, built in phases from 1764-1842. La Madeleine is now a Catholic Church, but was initially designed by Napolean as a monument to honour his forces, a Temple de la Gloire de la Grande Armée. A competition had been held for the design of the building, which was won by Claude Étienne de Beaumont, but the results were overturned and the building was instead built to a design by Pierre-Alexandre Vignon. There had been previous Catholic building projects on the site, and eventually, during the French Restoration, King Louis XVIII decreed that it should be used as a Catholic Church.
Once the initial shock of its Grecian façade fades, the next aspect which most impresses a visitor is its sheer size. This church is magnificent and awesome, with a great flight of stairs rising up to meet the colonnaded entrance. The pediment on a Greek temple might show battles between gods and heroes, for example. The motif here has been Christianised in accordance with the function, and depicts the Last Judgement, by Lemaire, but sadly it stands so high above our heads that it can't really be seen. The impressive bronze doors depict the ten commandments, but also allow a great area for advertising the numerous activities taking place in the church.
Inside it feels more familiar, the Catholic elements easy to see. It may not have a standard cruciform shape, but there are still side areas to pray and light candles at Mary's feet, and a clear sanctuary. Behind the altar is another particularly notable feature. The church is named after Mary Magdalene, and here we see a statue depicting St Mary being raised to heaven by angels, by Charles Marochetti. The statue dominates the sanctuary, its gleaming white bulk drawing your eye to it as soon as you enter.
Historically, both Saint-Saens and Faure have been the church organists – this is a church which attracts excellent music. The church's own organ is renowned, but it also acts as a venue for visiting music groups,. You may find yourself able to attend an event here even if you don't want to go to a Catholic service.
A small gift stall by the entrance sells the usual Catholic souveniers (rosaries and icons), a large range of candles, and plenty of postcards, including some more unusual historical views of the church.
The church has its own Metro station, the Madeleine, and the No.42 bus would take you right out to the Gare du Nord. At the same time, however, it is within walking distance of the Orangerie (10 minutes), Eiffel Tower (20 minutes), Louvre (15 minutes) and even Notre Dame (40 minutes).
It's free to enter the church. No photographs may be taken during services, but can be taken at other times.