Marseille Cathedral

Marseille cathedral (Sainte-Marie-Majeure) was built from 1852-1893, and represents Romanesque-Byzantine architecture.

Building of the Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille church took place during a period, when the city saw construction of several monumental buildings, thanks to the rapid growth in economy and population numbers.

These other monumental buildings from the same period include…

  • Gare Saint-Charles train station (1848),
  • Palais de la Bourse (1852),
  • Palais Longchamp (1862),
  • Palais du Pharo (1854),
  • Palais des Arts (1864), and
  • Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde (1864).

Marselle Cathedral France

PHOTO: Cathedral of Marseille, as seen from its Port Moderne harbor side, from Avenue Vaydoyer.

There were several architects involved in building the church, first one of which was Leon Vaudoyer, whose work was continued by Jacques Henri Esperandieu from 1872, and later by Henri Antoine Révoil, from 1874 onwards.

The cathedral, which is also known as ‘Cathédrale de la Major‘ is located within an esplanade between the Vieux Port harbor and the new commercial harbor, near the district of Joliette and Fort Saint-Jean fortress.

In fact, the same location has had several significant religious buildings since the 5th century AD.

Sainte-Marie-Majeure was build a bit west of ruins of an old Romanesque architecture style church, which was historically called “Vieille Major“.

Marseille Cathédrale de la Major is the only cathedral constructed during the 19th century in France, and it is also one of the biggest churches in the country to be built since the Middle Ages.

When designing the church, the architects intended to make references to…

  • the founding of the city (by Phocaean Greek civilization around 600 BC) and to
  • the position of Marseille as the “Gate to the East” from its busy harbor.

The church measurements, 142 m (465 ft) in length and 20 m (65 ft) in height — the towers being 60 m (196 ft) and the central dome 70 m (229 ft) tall — are comparable to Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome (Italy), and the magnificent church can fit at most around 3,000 people.

Leon Vaudoyer’s plan for the Marseille cathedral reflects the same Romanesque-Byzantine architecture style that was also used in the other main church in Marseilles, Notre-Dame de la Garde.

Vaudoyer also took inspiration from Istanbul’s churches (within a theme of combining east and the west), which resulted in the church having both domes and towers.

To construct the Marseille cathedral, the builders used the most significant materials of the time, including…

  • green stone from Florence,
  • white marble from Carrera, and
  • Venetian mosaics.

The church interiors have also been done with details taken from Byzantine tradition, including the marble elements and decorations on the domes, with inspiration for the interiors derived from cathedrals in bothLucca and Siena.

Inside the church, you can also find Louis Bottinelly’s monumental statues of four evangelists.

Main highlight of the church exterior, on the other hand, is its two towers, with domes on top of them.

The details on the facade also include seven statues, with a Jesus statue in the middle…

…surrounded by statue of Apostles Peter, Paul, and Lazarus (who was the first bishop of Marseille), and companions of Jesus: Maxim, Mary Magdalena, and Mary’s sister Martha — all guardian saints for the French province of Provence.

Another (exteriors) highlight are the blue and gold mosaics, which were added to the building inspired by Galla Placidia mausoleum in Ravenna.

Within the church square, meanwhile, you can find a statue of Monsignor Belsunce. He became famous during the last plague epidemic in France (1720).