The town Saint Maximin was the centre of the early Christianity in Provence and in France. The monumental royal basilica was raised by the Charles IInd d'Anjou to the honor and glory of Mary Magdalene. According to the ancient and venerable tradition this lady well known from the Gospels cameto Provence to preach the Good News, obeying the Jesus' command "Go forth and preach the Gospel to all creatures...". After many fruitful years, she was buried exactly in the place where the basilica stands today, at the place where Saint Maximin, the first bishop of Aix-en-Provence raised an oratory. After 1279 when the holy reliquiae of St. Mary Magdalene were found, the present basilica was constructed in 1295-1296, together with the adjacent dominicians convent. Her tomb became a pilgrimage place. The reliquiary with the scull of St. Mary Magdalene may still be venerated in the crypt of the basilica (pictured on the right).
The basilica itself is said to be the highest in Provence with its 33 meters and it hides many treasures and pieces of art which witness its past glory. On the western gallery above the main entrance, the magnificent and large "double sixteen feet" organ was built by friar Jean-Esprit Isnard and his nephew Joseph in 1772-1775.
It is one of very few French historical organs which miraculously survived the French revolution. The legend says that when the revolutionars came to the basilica to destroy its furniture including the organ, the organist of that time, Mr. Forcade, played the revolutionary song "Marseillaise" in front of the revolutionary authorities. It saved the organ from the demolition. However, the dominitians were expelled, the place lost its importance for some time due to the "secularisation" of the French republic. So, being an organ in a small countryside village during the 19th century, it was fortunately saved from all the "modernising" tendencies of that time.
As the result, this organ remains one of the exceptional French large instruments whose complete original material made by Isnard is preserved in its entirety: 2960 pipes, except that the original wooden pipes (the bass octaves of the bourdons) are used only for display now, since they were substituted with metal bourdon pipes during the last reconstruction.
The last overhaul of the organ was done in 1986-1991 by M. Yves Chabourdin.
It is necessary to express our deep gratitude to the authorities concerned with the St. Maximin organ: Mr. Gabriel Rinaudo, Maire de St. Maximin, Madame Véronique Guérin Adjointe à la culture, Mr. Pierre Bardon titulaire de l'orgue, Mr. Bridonneau Président des "Amis de la Basilique de St. Maximin", Jean-Jacques Le Coz who accompanied us all the time we were in France and gave us unbelievably enthusiastic support and Francois Blonay who was encharched with the communication with the authorities on behalf of Sonus Paradisi.
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