The essence of the monument
Sainte-Chapelle was built during the second half of 13th Century by Louis IX, the future Saint Louis, to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. Adorned with a unique collection of fifteen glass panels and a large rose window forming a veritable wall of light, Sainte-Chapelle is a gem of French gothic architecture.
In 1239, after two years of negotiations, Louis IX bought Christ’s crown of thorns from Beaudoin II, the Emperor of Constantinople, for a considerable sum. In 1241 he acquired some more relics from Byzantium and decided to build a monument worthy of such treasure, within the Palais de la Cité itself.
As well as its sumptuous windows, Sainte-Chapelle was decorated with wall paintings, which were faithfully restored in 19th Century, and carvings of a remarkable finesse and variety. The splendour of its architecture and décor and the ceremony attached to the worship of its relics had a marked influence on all artistic and liturgical creativity until the 16th Century.
Louis IX, who was to become Saint Louis, had this chapel built in the 13th century in order to put relics from the Passion of Christ in a safe place. The Holy Chapel (Sainte-Chapelle) is the jewel of High Gothic architecture.
After he acquired several relics, among which was the crown of thorns, Saint Louis decided to have a reliquary chapel built that would be worthy of these holy objects. Constructed in six years, the Holy Chapel was finished in 1248. His foreman remains unknown; it might be Pierre de Montreuil, the architect of Notre Dame and Saint Denis churches.
The building is a Palatine chapel, the upper part of which was reserved for the sovereign (a gallery linked the chapel to the royal suite) and in the lower part of which lived the staff of the Palace.
The lower chapel served as a base to the monument, whereas the upper one was designed as a monumental shrine, finely painted and worked, where the relics were carefully kept. Beside murals, the walls of the upper chapel have out-standingly delicate and varied sculptures. The exceptional stained-glass windows, two-thirds of which are of origin, represent the most complete collection about the art of stained-glass window making in the 13th century.
Seriously damaged during the French Revolution, the Holy Chapel was remarkably restored in the 19th century.
- Overview of the lower chapel
The Lower Chapel, with its low vaulted ceiling, 6.6 metres high, is entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and gives the impression of standing in a crypt. You only have to look up very slightly to appreciate the blaze of blue and gold that adorns the ceiling.
If you turn towards the choir, you will notice on the sides some discreet golden flying buttresses, which absorb the weight of the central vault. The columns are adorned with a décor alternating French fleurs-de-lis and Castilian towers
- Overview of the upper chapel
Climb the spiral staircase to reach the upper chapel, which was designed to resemble a monumental shrine, delicately painted and carved and ornamented with an exceptional set of stained glass windows. It is here that the relics are kept. You will most certainly be struck by the nave windows, which are 15.35 metres high and 4.7 metres wide.
Light floods the chapel charged with bright colours that filter through the 670 square metres of stained glass illustrating a complete biblical history, including the books of Genesis, Joshua, Judges and Isaiah.
- The East rose window
If you turn your back on the choir in the upper chapel and look upwards, you can admire the east rose window. Arranged in three concentric circles around a central eye representing St John, the rest of the window retraces a vision of the Apocalypse.
This 15th Century piece is characterised by its flamboyant style craftsmanship, which is different from the high gothic style of the 13th Century windows. The trained eye will spot the wider range of colours, with the arrival of yellow and green.
- The East rose window
The spire of Sainte-Chapelle should be viewed before or after visiting the interior, at a short distance, near the entrance to the precinct, to see it in its entirety. As a natural prolongation of the building, it represents the spiritual elevation that predominated the gothic mentality.
Since its construction, five spires have succeeded each other on the roof of Sainte-Chapelle. Lassus erected the current 33-metre high cedar wood spire in 1853. Designed in 15th Century style, it was a real technical achievement for the time.
4 boulevard du Palais
Metro: line 4
Bus: lines 21, 27, 38, 85, 96 and Balabus
By car: follow the banks of the Seine to Châtelet or Saint-Michel, then boulevard du Palais