The Old Major (Old Cathedral - registered as a National Heritage building in 1840)
The present church dates back to the middle of the 12th Century but a succession of earlier buildings had been built on the site since the 6th Century. It is a fine example of Provençal Romanesque architecture built of pinkish stone from the Couronne quarries. The bell tower was not built until the 16th Century. It was a cathedral until 1852, but continued to be used as a parish church until the 1950s. When the new cathedral was built, the vieille Major was deprived of two of its bays. During the construction work, however, the ancient Early Christian baptistery was revealed in the centre of the building with its square exterior and octagonal interior of huge dimensions (over 25 metres wide), all of which was very finely decorated. It was reburied and the New Major was built over it.
The New Major (New Cathedral) (registered as a National Heritage building in 1906)
In the 19th Century, Marseille witnessed major social, demographic and economic upheavals. A series of large-scale construction projects began and Marseille's finest buildings were erected. Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte laid the first stone of the new cathedral on 26th September 1852 and the church was consecrated on 6th May 1896. The nouvelle Major was designed by the architect Léon Vaudoyer. When he died in 1872, the building work was taken over by Henry Espérandieu, the architect who had designed Notre Dame de la Garde and the Palais Longchamp, until he in turn died in 1874. The building was finally completed by Henri Revoil. It is built in the Byzantine Romanesque style in the shape of a Latin cross with an ambulatory. The total length of the cathedral is 146 meters, the main dome is almost 70 meters high and 18 meters in diameter. Of particular interest are: the façade decorated with statues of Christ, the Apostles, Saint Peter and Saints of Provence and, inside the cathedral, fine statues of Louis Botinelly and Auguste Carly, an onyx ciborium and altars made of multicoloured marble and designed by Jules Cantini.
Saint Laurent is a medium-sized church built in the Provençal Romanesque style and comprises three naves separated by square pillars. Its exact origins are uncertain but it is mentioned in a number of 13th Century documents and was known to be enclosed within the Château Babon that was destroyed in the 15th Century. Saint Laurent was the parish church of the fishermen and seafarers and is the only parish church from the Middle Ages still preserved in Marseille today. The church lost one of its bays and the oriental-style façade when the Fort Saint-Jean was built in the 17th Century. Entrance to the church is still made through the South nave. The 16th Century bell tower was rebuilt in the 17th Century. The church was pillaged and severely damaged in the Revolution but was spared from being demolished when it was transformed into a warehouse and continued to be used as such until the Concordat was agreed. Marseille considered Saint Laurent as one of its principle churches until the old quarter was destroyed in 1943. It became a National Heritage building in 1950.
After recent restoration the church, built of the pinkish stone from the quarries at Couronne, has at last regained its original beauty and become a place of worship once again.
The Sainte-Catherine Chapel adjoins the Saint Laurent Church. It was built at the beginning of the 17th Century by the White Penitents. The vaulted ceiling is decorated with liernes and tiercerons (decorative ribbing) in a late Gothic style that is unique in Marseille. A collection of interesting objects has been preserved in the chapel: a pieta (Virgin holding the body of the dead Christ) presented by the ship-caulkers of Marseille, a statue of Mary Star of the Sea and a painting of the martyrdom of Saint Laurent.