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Basilica Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, St Maximin la St Baume

Large Gothic church housing the relics of St Mary Magdalene

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Basilica Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, St Maximin la St Baume

The building of the church and the adjacent convent began in 1295. It is now the only large Gothic church in Provence.

It was not until 1279 that excavations were undertaken under the "oratory" of St. Maximin. After the discovery of the body of Mary Magdalene and the official recognition of these relics in 1281, Charles II of Anjou, Count of Provence, decided, with the approval and encouragement of Pope Boniface VIII, to build a magnificent basilica in the honor of Mary Magdalene.

It stands high above many of the other buildings that surround it in the town of St Maxime la St Baume and can be seen from far out in the countryside.

Worth knowing

After the discovery of the corpse of Mary Magdalene and the official recognition of her relics in 1281, Charles II decided, with the agreement and encouragement of Pope Boniface VIII, who published several papal bulls to this effect, to build a sumptuous basilica in honour of Mary Magdalene and to install there the sons of Saint Dominic.

Construction spans over several periods. The three apses and the first five trusses are achieved in 1345 ; the sixth truss covering the crypt is constructed in 1404 ; the three last ones are finished circa 1525. The central façade and the bell tower, foreseen at the beginning of the south nave, were never built.

Despite its small dimensions (19m2), the crypt is the heart of the basilica. In addition to the reliquary of the « chef » (the head) of Mary Magdalene, it encloses four sarcophagi dating from the second half of the 4th Century.

The reliquary dates from 1860 and replaces the silver and gold one stolen during the Revolution. It contains the saint’s skull. Recently appraised , it is declared to be that of « a small Mediterranean type woman, about sixty years of age. » A crystal tube is sealed to the bottom of the reliquary. It encloses what has always been called the Noli me tangere (Do not touch me) a fragment of skin and bone tissue clinging to Mary Magdalene’s frontal bone on which Christ had placed his fingers on the morning of the Resurrection. This fragment had become detached from the skull during a review of the relics slightly before the Revolution.

Reviews

Visitor comments

  • "Thirty minutes east of Aix-en-Provence, directly off the motorway, you'll find this 12th century RC church that is speculated to hold the remains of Mary Magdalena. The basilica itself is not spectacular but the sacristy and some of the side chapels have intricately carved wood and some 6th century paintings. In the crypt you'll be able to see MM's skull. For those of us immersed in Catholic history this is a special place indeed." - Trip Advisor
  • “Surprisingly touching” - Trip Advisor
  • "The Basilique is rather austere, but inside it is very impressive with a beautiful altar and side altars. The crypt is below, a rather small space with the skull of Mary Madeleine encased in gold behind a golden screen. It is difficult to see. We would like to have had a camera with zoom lenses, whereby we could photograph her relic. It is a quiet spot where you can meditate and pray." - Trip Advisor

Booking Arrangements

When to come

The church houses an impressive organ and on the first Sunday of the month from May to October each year, there are free concerts by International organ players. The Saint Maximin music festival in August always commences with an organ concert here. Visits to the Basilica and bookshop are from 10:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 18:00 every day. 

Facilities

  • Parking
  • Parking on street