Sainte-Chapelle

Paris, France

Sainte-Chapelle (The Holy Chapel) is a 13th-century Gothic chapel on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. Sainte-Chapelle was founded by the ultra-devout King Louis IX of France, who constructed it as a chapel for the royal palace and to house precious relics. The palace itself has otherwise utterly disappeared, leaving the Sainte-Chapelle all but surrounded by the Palais de Justice.

Unlike many devout aristocrats, who regularly swiped sacred relics, the saintly Louis bought his for a hefty sum. In 1239, he purchased the crown of thorns from the impoverished Latin emperor at Constantinople, Baldwin II, for 135,000 livres (the entire chapel, by contrast, cost 40,000 livres to build). A piece of the True Cross was added, along with other relics, making Sainte-Chapelle a valuable reliquary.

In addition to properly sheltering his holy relics, Sainte-Chapelle was a result of Louis' political ambition to be the central monarch of western Christendom. At the time Louis' royal chapel was constructed, the imperial throne at Constantinople was occupied by a mere Count of Flanders and the Holy Roman Empire was in uneasy disarray.

Sainte-Chapelle was planned in 1241, started in 1246 and quickly completed: it was consecrated on April 26, 1248.

Just as the Emperor could pass privately from his palace into Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, so now King Louis could walk directly from his palace into the Sainte-Chapelle. The king died of the plague on a crusade, was later canonized by the Pope, and is now known as Saint Louis.

During the French Revolution, the chapel was converted to an administrative office, and the windows were obscured by enormous filing cabinets. Their all-but-forgotten beauty was thereby inadvertently protected from the vandalism in which the choir stalls and the rood screen were destroyed, the spire pulled down and the relics dispersed.

Most of Louis' precious relicswere lost or destroyed in the French Revolution; the few that remain are in the treasury of Notre-Dame Cathedral. In the 19th century, Viollet-le-Duc restored the chapel. The current spire is his design. Sainte-Chapelle has been a national historic monument since 1862.

Despite its small and humble exterior above the Palais de Justice buildings, Sainte-Chapelle is among the high points of French High Gothic architecture. The interior gives a a strong sense of fragile beauty, created by reducing the structural supports to a bare minimum to make way for huge expanse of exquisite stained glass. The result is a feeling of being enveloped in light and color.

Sainte-Chapelle stands squarely upon a lower chapel which served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the palace. This chapel, which is rather plain, is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. A souvenir stand often occupies most of the chapel today.

The most visually beautiful aspects of the chapel, and considered the best of their type in the world, are its 6,458 square feet of stained glass windows of the upper chapel, surrounded by delicate painted stonework. The windows are in deep reds and blues and illustrate 1,130 figures from the Bible. The rose windows added to the upper chapel in the 15th century.

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Details

Founded: 1241-1248
Category: Religious sites in France
Historical period: Late Capetians (France)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

s m (6 months ago)
Breathtaking! Stunning! An absolute must, even if visiting Paris for a day or two. Photos don't do it justice. Must experience in person. Was my favorite place in Paris. I went in January so there were no lines, but imagine it gets quite busy other times of year. Consider buying online with priority entrance. A brighter or sunny day will obviously influence how the windows appear. It was cloudy with a bit of sun when I went in the late afternoon. Was still a magnificent experience.
Deyana Edzhieva (6 months ago)
Absolutely amazing! It's magical, indescribably beautiful, even more so if you go on a sunny day. I recommend downloading their app before going, it's free and you can easily zoom in to any part of the painted glass in the chapel and see it as if you're right next to it, along with some explanation of the scenes.
Anastasia Petro (6 months ago)
Incredibly beautiful chapel. I would recommend to go there on a sunny day to enjoy it to the fullest. Seeing sunlight go through the stained glass and fill the interior with different colours... is absolutely amazing. This chapel is definitely one of must-sees in Paris.
Bryce Gething (7 months ago)
Highly recommend this chapel. The glass is hard to describe. You don’t need a guide there is a couple of things to read inside that explain what you observe. I went in November and the chapel was not too busy. The visit takes about 30-40 minutes if you take your time in the two large rooms observing all the glass and structures.
Georg Baumann (7 months ago)
It's a smaller chapel with an interesting basement and ornaments. It's situated inside the Palace of Justice, and thus the security checks are more fine grained than elsewhere, but still non invasive and you feel quite save and relaxed. The main attraction is, of course, the upper level with the most astonishing windows there is. Those depict more than thousand scenes from the Bible as artworks. Go and see. See and believe.
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