If you’ve seen the Madeleine Church on the Place de la Madeleine in Paris, have you ever wondered why it doesn’t look like a church at all?
The Madeleine Church
With its Neoclassical architecture inspired from Ancient Greek and Roman temples, the Madeleine Church looks more like a government building. In fact, it looks like the Palais Bourbon, home of the French National Assembly, which faces it across the river.
The Palais Bourbon
The reason why the Madeleine Church looks like that is simple. It was not supposed to be a church.
To be more precise, there were plans to build a church there and construction was started in 1763, but with the French Revolution of 1789, building churches was no longer a priority. As a result, the unfinished building did not have a purpose anymore and parts of it were demolished.
In 1806, Napoleon had the idea of using it to build a monument to honor his Great Army, and he chose a new design, the one that can be seen today. The façade of the Palais Bourbon was actually built at the same time and based on the same design, so that the two buildings would match.
After his defeat during the Russian campaign in 1812, however, Napoleon lacked the funds and the support to fully complete the temple to honor his army, so it was decided that the building would become a church.
Napoleon’s final fall from power and the return of the Catholic King Louis XVIII in 1815 sealed that decision, and the church was finally completed in 1842, based on the design chosen by Napoleon, but with a different purpose.
And that’s how a temple to military glory became a church that doesn’t look like a church.