Sainte-Chapelle, with the Conciergerie - the oldest remnant of the medieval royal palace of the Parisian Ile de la Cite, is a brilliant example of the high Gothic architecture. Exceptional in its design, decoration and symbolism, it is among several landmarks a visitor to Paris oughtn’t to bypass. Comprising two structures one atop the other and majestic stained glass windows that speak volumes, the Sainte-Chapelle proves to be among the greatest architectural masterpieces of Europe and the western world.
History of the Sainte-Chapelle
The Sainte-Chapelle was commissioned by King Louis IX (future Saint Louis) to shelter the relics of … Jesus Christ!!! The alleged relics of Christ’s passion were purchased in Constantinople from the impoverished Byzantine emperor in 1239. The Sainte Chapelle was created from 1242 to 1248, which was the light speed of that time. The construction of the chapel was quite expensive, but the price of the relics tripled it.
With the completion of the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris was considered the second capital of Christianity, only after Jerusalem. The Passion relics were displayed here until the French Revolution (1789 – 1799), when most relics were lost. What was left of them is today stored in the neighbouring Notre Dame Cathedral.
Now you must wonder why the revolutionists were so persistent in their destruction. Since the common people suffered a great deal through actions of royalty, nobility and religious authorities, they expressed their revolt through the actions against everything in relation to them.
At least, the stained glass windows were spared.
Architecture of the Sainte-Chapelle
The Sainte-Chapelle features two widely different levels. The Lower Chapel consists of a nave and two aisles, defined by decorated pillars whose extensions stretch over the vault, crisscrossing with each other. Along the semicircular apse the stained glass windows are distributed, as well as wall paintings, medallions and occasional sculptures. The Lower Chapel is 7 meters high.
The Upper Chapel, accessible by a narrow staircase, is much more impressive. Its proportions are 33 x 10.5 x 20.5 meters (l x w x h), featuring the stained glass windows spreading approximately over 640 square meters. The windows are 15.5 (nave) and 13.5 (apse) meters tall, and around 70% of them is original. So characteristic of the Gothic style, the height of the Upper Chapel represents closeness to the God. Besides splendid windows, additional decoration features sculptures atop the pillars.
A spire rising skywards crowns the ecclesiastical structure.
Decoration of the Lower Chapel
At the entrance to the Lower Chapel, the visitors are greeted by the statue of Virgin Mary, which is the patron saint of the Sainte Chapelle. Wall medallions represent the apostles while the introducing photo of the article represents Louis IX, who is among a very few French monarchs that aren’t buried in France. The king succumbed to the epidemic that decimated his forces during the conquest in northern Africa in 1270. The painting illustrating Annunciation, above the sacristy in the apse (in the photo) is the oldest wall painting in Paris.
The blue ceiling, dotted with yellow fleur-de-lys (a frequently used symbol of royalty, reminding one of flower), is intended to represent the nightly starry sky. Fleur-de-lys are also present on the encircling purple pillars, alternating with the towers. Those happened to be the hallmark of Queen Blanche de Castile, mother of Saint Louis. The Lower Chapel used to be a worshipping place for the commoners and servants to the royalty.
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Decoration of the Upper Chapel
Breathtaking stained glass windows depict stories from the Bible, encompassing Genesis, Exodus, Christ’s Passion, etc. When Gothic style was widely acknowledged as the architectural movement, the pictures were accounted to pass the religious knowledge since the majority of the congregation was illiterate.
Most visitors find these windows the most striking feature of Sainte-Chapelle, and there is little wonder. Fourteen of these windows should be read from left to right, from the bottom to the top. The only exception is The history of the Passion relics, next to the right staircase; it is also read from the bottom upwards, but when the line ends to the right, the tale proceeds with the right picture on the upper line to the left, and vice versa.
Fifteen stained glass windows depict 1113 scenes in total. These pictures are distributed from the left wall, through apse, to the end of the right wall. The western rose window is the 16th; located opposite of the Passion of Christ (the apse’s central depiction), it illustrates St. John’s Apocalypse. The central figure is Christ himself, reappearing to judge the dead and the living.
At the base of the neighbouring windows, the statue adorns the top of the pillar. Each depicts an apostle. The Upper Chapel was reserved for the royalty and the high nobility.
Prepare your visit
The Sainte-Chapelle operates from 09:30 to 18:00 (09:00 to 17:00 from November to March), and full entry price is 8.50 EUR (9.10 USD). The combined ticket for the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie costs 13.50 EUR (14.50 USD). Paris Museum Pass ensures free entrance. Both chapels can be easily explored within an hour. In order to avoid lengthy queuing at the entrance, the best timing to be there is prior to the opening time.
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