Sainte-Chapelle – A Royal Chapel Full of History and Famous for its Stained Glass:
Long before we visited Sainte-Chapelle, I’d already seen many pictures of its exquisite stained glass windows. And, although it is said that a picture paints a thousand words, nothing quite prepares you for the stunning beauty of Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass windows, as we discovered during our visit. This magnificent 13th-century Gothic chapel is small in comparison to other Paris churches, but its 6,458 square feet of stained glass in the upper chapel is considered to be the best in the world.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in the mid-13th century according to the wishes of King Louis IX. The King had acquired the Passion of the Christ Holy Relics, which included the famous Crown of Thorns. The relics had for centuries belonged to the Emperors of Constantinople and they cost a considerable sum of money, much more than the cost to build the church. In acquiring the relics, the extremely devout King had turned Paris into a “new Jerusalem” and the second capital of Christianity.
A Royal Chapel
Situated on the Île de la Cité, Sainte-Chapelle was part of the Palais de la Cité, the residence and seat of royal power from the 10th to the 14th centuries. It was built as two sanctuaries, one on top of the other. The lower chapel was used a place of worship for the palace staff, whereas the upper chapel was reserved for the king, his close friends, the royal family and the canons who conducted the services. The precious relics were displayed and worshipped in the upper chapel.
Sainte-Chapelle is now part of the Palace of Justice complex, so when visiting the chapel, visitors have to go through a security check. Don’t bring along Swiss knives or anything that you wouldn’t want to risk being confiscated. Although Sainte-Chapelle is best known for the stained glass windows of the upper chapel, the lower chapel is quite attractive and has many interesting features as well – this is where your visit of Sainte-Chapelle begins. The chapel is ornately decorated with many symbols that remind us that Sainte-Chapelle was once a king’s chapel. On the chapel ceiling, the field of gold fleur-de-lys against an azure background look like stars in the night sky, to me anyway. The fleur-de-lys was widely used in the coat of arms of French cities and is usually associated with the French monarchy. A statue of King Louis IX stands at the altar of the chapel and the coat of arms of Queen Blanche of Castile, Louis IX’s mother, can be seen on the columns with the purple background.
When you’re done with the lower chapel, climb up the steps to the upper chapel to see the most amazing expanse of stained glass windows. As my gaze is drawn up the soaring stained glass windows to the ceiling of the chapel, I then understand why the medieval worshipers thought that the chapel was like a ‘gateway to heaven’. In total, there are 15 stained glass windows with 1,113 scenes. Fourteen of these windows depict episodes from the bible. Moving from left to right, they tell the story of mankind beginning from Genesis through to the Resurrection of Christ. The last window on the right tells the story of the relics of the Passion of Christ.
And while you’re looking up, don’t forget to take note of the twelve marvellous wood carvings of the Apostles set on top of the pillars. These are splendid examples of medieval wood carvings.
The western rose window, a gift from Charles VIII in 1485, illustrates the religious story of the ‘Apocalypse’. If you have a pair of binoculars or a camera with a good long lens, you can see in the centre of the rose window, the representation of Christ returning at the end of time to judge both the living and the dead.
For anyone who likes stained glass, Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass windows are exquisite and should not be missed. It’s amazing that two-thirds of the windows are the original and that they survived the great damage to the chapel during the French Revolution, as well as World War II.
Classical Music at Sainte-Chapelle
For those who enjoy classical music, there are concerts in the main chapel in the evenings. Enjoying music in this heavenly setting would certainly be one of the highlights of any Paris trip. See what’s on at Sainte-Chapelle and you can also book your concert Here.
4 Boulevard du Palais
How to Get There:
Métro: Cité (Line 4), St-Michel (Line 4), or Chatelet (Lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14)
RER: St-Michel Notre-Dame