Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

The Sainte-Chapelle in Paris was built by King Louis IX (that's St. Louis as he was later known) as a fitting repository for some holy relics that he had acquired. Louis was only twelve years old when his father, Louis VIII, died in 1226. His mother Blanche de Castille took good care of things as regent until he came of age at twenty in 1234. In 1237, the eastern empire was suffering under the expenses of the Crusades. Louis bought from eastern Emperor Baudoin II the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus during His passion and death. He paid 135,000 livres. It was brought to the palatine chapel of St. Nicholas in the center of Paris, near the royal palace. In 1241, Louis bought a fragment of the True Cross and other relics from Baudoin. At this point, the pious Louis had the idea of building a proper reliquary to house these treasures. The idea for the Sainte-Chapelle was born. It would be a monumental jewel to hold the precious relics of the Lord Jesus, housed in the royal palace in the center of Paris.

Work began about 1244 and was completed by 26 April 1248, when the Chapelle was formally consecrated by the papal legate to France. The chapelle has two stories. The lower story is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was the place of worship for the soldiers, servants, and courtiers of the palace. The upper story is dedicated to the Holy Cross and was the place of worship for the royal family, their closest friends and advisers, and distinguished guests. The construction cost about 40,000 livres, not even a third of the cost of the Crown of Thorns. Nevertheless, the building is breathtakingly gorgeous, even today.

The lower chapel had considerable damage from the flood of 1690 and the whole church was damaged during the French Revolution in the early 1800s. The Crown went to Notre-Dame in Paris, where it is still preserved in the treasury. A restoration of the chapelle soon followed from 1840 to 1868, where the artisans aimed to restore the chapelle to its original medieval appearance, after many additions and alterations through the centuries. Efforts have been ongoing through the 20th and into the 21st centuries.

The exterior of the chapelle is ornately Gothic. The original lower door was damaged by the flood of 1690. The current door was built in the 19th century, featuring the coronation of Mary as queen of Heaven and Earth.

Corner view of Sainte-Chapelle

Front porches

Portal of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin above the door

Royal fleur-de-lis and castles in honor of Louis IX's mom, Blanche de Castille

The lower chapelle is now used partly as the gift shop for the church. Some of the decorations survive, such as a statue of St. Louis and some medallions honoring the apostles.

Lower chapelle, with regal decor and some gargoyles from the roof

King St. Louis IX

Medallion to honor one of the apostles

A small winding staircase leads up to the main chapelle where the relics were stored and where the most amazing stained glass I have ever seen is on display. The windows are astoundingly huge, seemingly constituting entire walls. The chapelle is flooded with light. The windows mostly tell stories from both Testaments of the Bible; a few are dedicated to the history of the Relics and how St. Louis brought them to Paris.

Upper nave with restoration work on the left

Some of the windows

The Genesis window (click to enlarge)

Between the windows, each column has a statue of one of the apostles. As they were the foundation and support of the early church, so they are the support of Sainte-Chapelle! The original statues were defaced during the French Revolution and now 19th century copies adorn the walls.


St. Peter

On the western wall (or back wall) is the rose window which depicts scenes from the final book of the Bible, the Apocalypse.

West wall with doors and rose window

Rose window of the book of Revelation

The main altar has been taken out (as have the relics) but the area is still there. The altar is on the eastern wall (facing Jerusalem) and the relics were kept in a special reliquary above.

Main altar area

Where the relics were housed for hundreds of years

The space is no longer used for liturgical purposes, but the glorious light and colors filling the Sainte-Chapelle still inspire a profound sense of awe.

No comments:

Post a Comment