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Visiting the Sainte-Chapelle, Paris: a Medieval, architectural treasure and one of the great landmarks of the city

Updated on February 12, 2015
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
Sainte-Chapelle, Paris | Source
Seal of King Louis IX
Seal of King Louis IX | Source
The exterior of Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France.
The exterior of Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France. | Source

An impressive combination of features, powerfully projected

On the Île de la Cité, in Paris, France, stands an ecclesiastical monument which is one of the city's great, architectural treasures. The fact that the most famous building on the Île de la Cite , Notre Dame Cathedral, is close by, should not detract from this building's status as a priceless landmark. The building in question is the Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel).

The building was once part of the palace of France's Capetian kings; the remainder of this palace has not survived. The Sainte-Chapelle dates from the 13th century, having been commenced approximately some time after 1239. In Gothic style — indeed, constituting a leading example of this —, it is also described as Rayonnant, characterized by the repetition of decorative features.

The structure was commissioned by French King Louis IX (1214-1270), sometimes referred to as Saint Louis.

The sheer scale of the windows, with their stained glass, impresses. The larger windows measure 15.35 by 4.7 metres. A noted feature of the building — and a very prominent one — is its roof turret.

This chapel has been valued and cared for painstakingly over many years — except at the French Revolution, when it was damaged. Distinguished architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) and others were involved in a restoration program in the 19th century.

The building thus incorporates a number of architectural and, indeed, pyschological elements: the Gothic style, the associations with French kings, particularly Louis IX, the religious aspects, the aesthetically intense power of illusion of the stained glass windows. Medieval architects and their royal and religious paymasters certainly knew how to project feelings to impress pilgrim and diplomat alike! (The French Revolutionaries, however, were, by and large, not so impressed, given the damage some of them did to the building... .) Even today, it is sometimes hard for the observer to separate rationally these various categories of feature.

Upwards of three-quarters of a million visitors come to the Sainte-Chapelle annually. This Gothic masterpiece of Medieval craftsmanship on the Île de la Cité has become one of the memorable symbols of Paris's architectural heritage. Personally — for the very little that it is worth — I find the Sainte Chapelle even more impressive than Notre Dame Cathedral.

Interestingly, visitors to Paris who are already familiar with the great architectural heritage of Oxford, England, may feel that they have seen the Sainte-Chapelle somewhere before. This is because the chapel at Exeter College, Oxford was modelled — albeit on a smaller scale — on the Sainte-Chapelle by its architect Edward Burne-Jones.

Map location of Paris, France
Map location of Paris, France | Source

Also worth seeing

On the Île de la Cité , Paris, other visitor attractions include Notre Dame Cathedral and. adjoining the Sainte-Chapelle , the Palace of Justice (French: Palais de Justice ) and the Conciergerie .


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available; however, visitors to Paris may wish to explore the city via its excellent public transport system. The local Métro station is Cité . Some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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