France From The Inside

France From The Inside: Sainte Chapelle in Paris

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In Paris there are many places with long queues but just around the corner from one of the longest queues at Notre Dame, is Sainte Chapelle.

Here the queues tend to be shorter but what the visitor will see is unique and be remembered for a long time. The church is a monument to King Louis the ninth of that long line of Louiss. This ninth one wanted to impress his nobles. Times were difficult for the Kings. There was always someone waiting to take your crown, so giving the impression of power was very important.

So Sainte-Chapelle is very impressive. Designed to get maximum bangs for his Frank, King Louis the Ninth worked like a modern supermarket designer to ensure his nobles saw his building exactly the way he wanted them to. They were directed through the building like a shopper in a superstore. His nobles and subjects who needed to be impressed were brought first into the lower chapel, only joining King Louis and his favourites one by one by a narrow spiral stair. The King of course had used an upper entrance direct from his palace, which at that time was still on the island.

Sainte-Chapelle was used to house the Crown of Thorns which Louis had bought for $270,000, an extortionate sum in those days and more than three times the cost of building work, such was the power of holy relics in 1239. He negotiated their purchase for three years with the Emperor of Constantinople. Not content with just the Crown of Thorns he later bought further religious memorabilia, which must have helped when he was becoming a saint. Having such a religious symbols ensured Louis would have his noble’s attendance at court and perhaps their loyalty.

The Two Chapels

The contrast between the upper chapel which is all bathed in light from its magnificent windows reaching seemingly unsupported to the magnificent ceiling and the dark and dimly lit lower chapel with its low ceilings and restrained decoration is extreme.

Pierre de Montreuil, the architect, had used perspective to make the upper chapel seemed taller, the seeming absence of reinforcement in the tall narrow windows saying the power of this building is the power of the King. What we cannot see are the iron bars surrounding the walls which are concealed in the narrow stonework between the windows. Two thirds of these stained-glass windows survived the ravages of the French Revolution. The remainder were magnificently restored in the 19th century. They tell the story of mankind from creation to his redemption through Christ. The magnificent Rose Window is superb example of 13C artists and craftsmen’s work. The internal fittings of the church, its choir stalls and rude screens were destroyed during the Revolution. The organ was looted and taken away to a church in rural France. We must be grateful for the painstaking restoration carried out in the Nineteenth century.
Tags: france, paris
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