For many visitors to beloved Paris, Île de la Cité is the heart of Paris and is also coincidentally one of two islands along the Seine as it cuts through the city. This island holds famous attractions like the Notre Dame, the Conciergerie (where political prisoners awaited their execution during the French Revolution) and also the ironically named bridge Pont Neuf (“New Bridge”) being the oldest bridge existing in Paris. However, amidst all these famous attractions lie hidden a neglected chapel: Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle that was built as a reliquary to house the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross.
Located just 7 minutes from Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle is often neglected and left out of itineraries as tourists prefer visiting Notra Dame simply because they have not heard of the former. I too only read in passing an entry in a travel book the Sainte-Chapelle and decided to visit it is because of its claim to being one of the few remaining medieval buildings that survived Haussmann’s renovation of Paris in 1860.
The structure is extremely old with construction having started some time after 1238 and consecrated on 26 April 1248. This age is evident from the discrepancy between the ground level of the chapel which is now below street level and appears to be more of a crypt rather than the ground floor of a chapel fit for the True Cross.
The royal chapel is a prime example of Gothic architectural that defies the laws of physics (at least it appears to do so). I can imagine what went through the minds of all the faithful that knelt in that chapel. Imagine 800 years ago when construction techniques were poor and buildings had to be built using large amounts of stone and pillars to hold up the roof. This would have meant very dark and confined spaces. The chapel instead emanates a sense of weightlessness with its with tall tainted glass windows and a bright and colourful interior.
Visiting the chapel for the first time was a unique experience. I did not google before hand how it would be like and it was simply amazing. The initial impression was really “WTF” and “Did I just get ripped off”. The ground floor of the chapel is plain and I really thought it was a bad choice visiting.
That was until I realised that there was a stairwell leading upstairs.
AND BAM! Sensory overload with all those colours. Simply perfect. For those interested in discovering the stories that lie hidden in the images, there are guide boards on the side in multiple languages that explain the significance of each glass panel. If you are like me, you can just find yourself a seat and just take in the sight. Amazing!
8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France
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