I love France #21: La Sainte-Chapelle


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After the gloomy post on La Conciergerie last week, I promised you something more uplifting.

Statue of Louis IX

La Sainte-Chapelle (French pronunciation: [la sɛ̃t ʃapɛl], The Holy Chapel) is the only surviving building of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité in the heart of Paris, France. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion Relics, including the Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.

Begun some time after 1239 and consecrated on the 26th of April 1248, la Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. Although damaged during the French revolution and heavily restored in the 19th century, it retains one of the most extensive in-situ collections of 13th century stained glass anywhere in the world.

La Sainte-Chapelle has been a national historic monument since 1862.

The most famous features of the chapel, among the finest of their type in the world, are the great stained glass windows, for whose benefit the stone wall surface is reduced to little more than a delicate framework. Fifteen huge mid-13th century windows fill the nave and apse, while a large rose window with Flamboyant tracery (added to the upper chapel c.1490) dominates the western wall.

Despite some damage the windows display a clear iconographical program. The three windows of the eastern apse illustrate the New Testament, featuring scenes of The Passion (center) with the Infancy of Christ (left) and the Life of John the Evangelist (right). By contrast, the windows of the nave are dominated by Old Testament exemplars of ideal kingship/queenship in an obvious nod to their royal patrons. The cycle starts at the western bay of the north wall with scenes from the Book of Genesis (heavily restored). The next ten windows of the nave follow clockwise with scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, (moving to the south wall) Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings. The final window, occupying the westernmost bay of the south wall brings this narrative of sacral kingship right up to date with a series of scenes showing the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis himself.

Thanks to my touristic guide friend, it was fascinating to see how King Louis had reinterpreted Scripture and inserted himself in the Biblical genealogy and events, as can be seen if you look closely at every stained glass windows.

The reliquary with the Crown of Thrones

The dominant colors represent the King and… his wife? No, she’s barely present. But his mother, Blanche of Castile, is omnipresent – the symbol being the castle, for her name.


And one of my favorite element there: the ceiling, as symbol as the heavens and their glory:



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6 thoughts on “I love France #21: La Sainte-Chapelle

  1. I was just in Paris this last weekend, but didn’t have time to visit this place. Next time, and there will be a next time. I fell in love with Paris.


  2. I was able to visit Sainte Chapelle in 2010 and was astonished by the beauty. My son was 9 years old and was actually inspired to take up a camera for the first time ever!


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