The Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) forms part of the Palais de la Cité (Palace of the City), which was the former French royal palace. The Palais de la Cité is located on Ile de la Cité (City Island) in what is now Paris’ first district. Between the 10th and 14th centuries it served as the royal residence and the center of French political power. In the 13th century, King Louis IX added the Sainte Chapelle in order to both display his political ambitions and to house his passion relics, among them, the Crown of Thorns. Today, the chapel continues to amaze visitors with its ornate stained glass windows and its beautiful architecture.
Enter into the lower chapel
After climbing up a steep spiral staircase, visitors are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the upper chapel. The main feature is the enormous stained glass windows. Six hundred meters of stained glass were necessary to construct the 15 windows and 1113 biblical scenes. In moving in a clockwise fashion, visitors follow the entire story of the Bible, from the book of Genesis to the resurrection of Christ. Detailed brochures of each of the scenes can be found in the chapel.
What’s even more amazing about the windows is that they seem to capture light even on cloudy days and brighten the chapel. This design feature is meant to create a colorful and ethereal effect that evokes Heavenly Jerusalem.
It is thanks to an administrative decision that the windows survived the French revolution. Offices were located inside the chapel, with large filing cabinets covering the windows. This prevented significant damage from occurring. However, there was a complete restoration in the 19th century in order to revitalize the chapel.
Observe the king’s shrine
The great shrine is found at the back of the chapel. It is here that King Henry IX’s 22 relics of the Passion of the Christ used to be stored. Notably, there was a fragment of the Holy Cross and the Crown of Thorns. Most of these items were melted down during the French Revolution. The remaining items are housed in the treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Although there are no longer any relics, take time to study the details on the shrine, including royal motifs and angels.
Appreciate the chapel’s additional features
Although the windows and the shrine immediately catch the eye, be on the lookout for equally interesting, smaller details. For example, there is a statue of Saint Peter holding the keys to heaven, as well as statues of the 12 apostles, five of which are originals.
The tiled floor is a feature to spend some time examining. It, like the windows, is also brightly-colored and highly detailed, depicting animals and flowers.
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Spend some time in the neighborhood
After this incredible visit, make sure to take a walk around this beautiful and historic part of Paris. Just across from the subway stop Cité (which is the closest to Sainte-Chapelle), stroll through the Marché aux Fleurs (Flower Market). This market has been in continuous operation since 1808 and features both covered and open-air pavilions. On Sundays there is also a bird market.
If you’re feeling a bit hungry or thirsty, exit Sainte-Chapelle, take two left turns and walk along the Seine River until Place Dauphine (Dauphine Square). This square dates to the 17th century and is one of the oldest in Paris. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in this tranquil spot, such as La Rose de France (The Rose of France) and Ma Salle à Manger (My Dining Room), both of which serve up traditional French favorites like beef bourguignon and roasted duck.
Add Sainte-Chapelle to your Paris "to do list"
The Sainte-Chapelle is one of Paris’ hidden gems. There are not many visitors, and the chapel combines fascinating history with beautiful architecture. This is truly a win-win outing in Paris! To reach Sainte-Chapelle, take subway line 4 and get off at stop Cité. Cross Boulevard du Palais. It is located at 8 Boulevard du Palais.
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