An edifice was erected on the spot where the Madeleine stands, in 1659, by Mademoiselle d’Orleans. That building was soon found to be too small for the accommodation of the people in its neighborhood, and in 1764, the present building was commenced by the architect of the duke of Orleans. The revolution put an end for a time to the work upon the church, but Napoleon, after his Prussian campaign, determined to dedicate the Madeleine as a Temple of Glory, “to commemorate the achievements of the French arms, and to have on its columns engraved the names of all those who had died fighting their country’s battles.” The necessary funds were given and architects were set at work immediately upon it. But Napoleon’s plans were frustrated, and in 1815 Louis XVIII. restored the building to its original destination, and ordered that monuments should be erected in it to Louis XVI., Marie Antoinette, Louis XVII., and Mme. Elizabeth. The revolution of 1830, however, interrupted this work, and it was not till the reign of Louis Phillippe, that it was completed. The entire cost of the Madeleine was two millions six hundred and fifteen thousand and eight hundred dollars. It stands on a raised platform, three hundred and twenty-eight feet long and one hundred and thirty-eight broad, and has at each end an approach consisting of twenty-eight steps, the entire length of the facade. The architecture is Grecian, a colonnade of fifty-two Corinthian columns entirely surrounding the building, giving to it a grandeur of appearance to which few structures in Europe attain. Between the columns there are niches, and a row of colossal statues stand in them. They represent St. Bernard, St. Raphael, and a score of others. The colonnade is surmounted by a beautiful piazza, and a cornice adorned with lion’s heads and palm leaves.
The pediment of the southern end contains a large altorelievo by Lemaire. It is one hundred and twenty-six feet long and twenty-four feet high. In the center is a figure of Christ; the Magdalene is beneath in a suppliant attitude; while HE is pardoning her sins. On the right hand the angel of Pity gazes down upon the poor woman, with a look of deep satisfaction. On the other hand is the figure of Innocence, surrounded by the angels, Faith, Hope, and Charity. In the angle of the pediment is the figure of an angel greeting the new-born spirit, and raising his hand, points to the place prepared for him in heaven.
On the left of the pediment the angel of Vengeance is repelling the Vices. Hatred is there with swollen features; Unchastity, with disheveled hair and negligent dress, clings to her guilty paramour; Hypocrisy, with the face of a young woman, a mask raised to her forehead, looks down upon the spectator; and Avarice is represented as an old man clinging to his treasures.
The pediment is filled completely by the figure of a demon, which is forcing a damned soul into the abyss of woe. This is the largest sculptured pediment in the world, and occupied more than two years in its execution. The figure of Christ is eighteen feet in length, which will give the reader an idea of the size of the sculpture.