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.
The Château de Foix dominates the town of Foix. An important tourist site, it is known as a centre of the Cathars. Built on an older 7th-century fortification, the castle is known from 987. In 1002, it was mentioned in the will of Roger I, Count of Carcassonne, who bequeathed the fortress to his youngest child, Bernard. In effect, the family ruling over the region were installed here which allowed them to control access to the upper Ariège valley and to keep surveillance from this strategic point over the lower land, protected behind impregnable walls.
In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.
The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.
From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.
As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).
Until the Revolution, the fortress remained a garrison. Its life was brightened with grand receptions for its governors, including the Count of Tréville, captain of musketeers under Louis XIII and Marshal Philippe Henri de Ségur, one of Louis XVI's ministers. The Round Tower, built in the 15th century, is the most recent, the two square towers having been built before the 11th century. They served as a political and civil prison for four centuries until 1862.
Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.