Not nearly as large, well-known or frequently visited as its big sister only a few blocks away (Notre-Dame Basilica), Sainte-Chapelle was hands down my favorite church in Paris.
Sainte-Chapelle (sant-shah-pel) is a truly magnificent site, in my opinion one of the best attractions in Paris. Situated in Palace of Justice complex (under high security because it adjoins the French Supreme Court) on historic Ile de la Cite’, the island that birthed Paris, the Gothic Church was built by pious King Louis IX in the 13th century. The king had purchased priceless relics of the Passion (including the crown of thorns and a fragment of the cross) from the Byzantine emperor, and wanted an appropriate place to display these relics, so he commissioned the construction of Sainte-Chapelle. King Louix IX is the only French king who is now considered a Saint.
Sainte-Chapelle was built in a remarkably short period of time and under the supervision of just one architect, from 1242-1248, so there’s a balance to it that you don’t find in many churches. The upper chapel was built for King Louis and the Royal Family, who could walk to it from their palace (which no longer exists). The upper chapel was where the Passion relics were once displayed. A separate lower chapel (lower level) was dedicated to Mary mother of Jesus, and was where non-royals worshiped.
The photos in this blog were taken in the upper chapel of Sainte-Chapelle which we visited to enjoy an evening concert. We arrived around an hour before dusk, which was a magnificent time to enjoy the sunlight bring life to the west-facing windows. I’ve never seen a church anywhere that had more magnificent stained glass windows. In fact, it seemed that the purpose of the church was to display its stained glass — to bring light into the sanctuary through those long colorful windows. There are 600 sq meters (6456 sq ft) of colored glass installed as 15 panels in Sainte-Chapelle, over two-thirds of which is original and dating to the 1200s. The colors mostly used are red and blue, and the entire bible story is illustrated here on over 1100 different scenes, from creation to the judgement (note: the rose window dates to the 15th century and features scenes from the judgement). The sculptures in this chapel are of the 12 Apostles, each on one column. The Passion relics which survived the French Revolution are now stored in the treasury of the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the crown of thorns is only displayed on Good Friday.
During the French Revolution, the chapel suffered significant damage including theft of its furnishings and choir wall, and the expensive display case holding the crown of thorns. The church’s spire was knocked over and holy relics were scattered, but fortunately the statues were saved, as was the stained glass. The windows were removed in WWII in anticipation of bombing, likely saving many of them from damage.
We spent a glorious hour and a half in the chapel, most of it enjoying wonderful music, especially that of a great violin maestro. A few clips of this are attached.
And some photos of glorious Sainte-Chapelle!