It’s not every day you can say you’ve visited a religious site that has been called one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But Saint Chapelle is just such a place.
The gothic chapel, built in the 13th century on the Ile de la Cité, was home to some of the most precious relics of Christendom: bits of the True Cross brought back from the Crusades.
The purpose of Saint Chapelle was twofold. It was meant as a royal palace chapel for Louis IX and his family – hence its location within the Palais de la Cité, which also housed the king’s court – and as a grand display of Louis’s piety and power. And it did not disappoint on either count.
The interior of Saint Chapelle is an awe-inspiring sight, with stained glass windows stretching almost 50 meters (150 feet) high and reaching around three-quarters of the way up the walls. In fact, there is so much glass that, on a sunny day, the chapel is filled with light, giving it an almost ethereal quality.
The lower level of Saint Chapelle was meant for royal use only and consists of a large hall with a marble floor and gilded woodwork. But it is the upper level – known as the Chapel of the Relics – that really takes your breath away.
It is here that you can see some of those precious relics, including a fragment of the True Cross and thorns from Christ’s crown, set on the altar. A visit to Saint Chapelle is included in many Paris sightseeing tours, but it’s also worth going on your own.
Table of Contents
- Sainte Chappelle History
- Where is Sainte Chapelle Located?
- Lower chapel and the upper chapel
- The famous rose window actually shows the end of the world
- Sainte-Chapelle was nearly destroyed by revolutionaries
- What to see near Sainte-Chapelle
- Where to Eat Near Sainte Chappelle
- How long does it take to visit Sainte Chapelle?
- Is there an admission fee to enter Sainte Chapelle?
- What are the opening hours for Sainte Chapelle?
- What is the history of Sainte Chapelle?
Sainte Chappelle History
In 1241, King Saint Louis (Louis IX), ordered the building of this Chapelle to house Jesus’ Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. He paid more than three times the price of the building to get this treasure from the Constantinople Emperor!
The reliquary holding the fragments of the True Cross was destroyed during the Revolution, but today, the Crown of Thorns is in the Treasure of Notre Dame.
There are 15 large windows and 28 smaller ones, all of which tell stories from the Old Testament. The colors are so bright and vibrant that it’s hard to believe they were created over 700 years ago.
The stained glass windows, restored in the XIXth century, are from the XIIIth century and cover a surface of 620 m2! It shows scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
During the day, it’s stunning when the sky is clear and the sun sets, but it’s also when things are busiest. You may also use binoculars to look at the details of ornate stained glass windows.
To avoid queuing too long for the tickets, it’s better to buy a twin ticket at the Conciergerie and start with this monument, which used to be a Royal Palace and a sadly famous prison.
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Where is Sainte Chapelle Located?
It’s located on the Ile de la Cité, inside the old Royal Palace courtyard (today the Palais de Justice).
The Chapel is located on the Ile de la Cite, which is in the center of Paris. It’s easily accessible by Metro (Lines 1 or 4), RER B (to Saint-Michel-Notre Dame stop), or Bus (Line 21, 38, 47, 85, 96).
Opening time: March until the end of October, 9.30 a.m until 6.00 p.m (last entry at 5.30 p.m). The rest of the year: 9.00 a.m until 5.00 p.m.
Prices: free under 18 years old; 6,10 euros for adults. Ticket including the Conciergerie: 9 euros.
Lower chapel and the upper chapel
The lower chapel in Sainte-Chapelle, which was formerly only open to judges, has been entirely rebuilt and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The lack of light in the chapel gives it an otherworldly aspect. Because of the small windows and low ceilings, there was a lack of illumination.
Above the lower chapel is a small chamber known as the Upper Chapel. It contains the relics of the Crucifixion and has a simple connection to the first floor of Palace Royal via a tiny door. As a result, only royalty had access to the upper chapel. The entranceway is bordered by massive rosettes that bathe the ground in natural light.
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The famous rose window actually shows the end of the world
The west side of the chapel is entirely covered in large rose-glass windows, nicknamed “walls of light,” which completely envelop the western side. It’s a lot darker now.
The bright stained glass windows show scenes from the Bible’s last book, Revelation, with an ecclesiastical message about the world’s future today. Christ may be seen standing on his throne with seven seals, and Saint John, as well as seven churches, can be seen.
Sainte-Chapelle was nearly destroyed by revolutionaries
The holy chapel has been severely damaged in the French Revolution of 1789. Its fragile exterior suffered extensive damage including the church’s rosettes which represented the French ruling classes in its fleur d ‘état.
Although its condition was poor before the war, the building was damaged by two fires in 1631 and 1778 and survived one flood. During the Second Empire, the upper chapel was reorganized as archives, and destroyed some delicate stained glass windows.
During the revolution, nearly the entire treasure collection was lost by France. Fortunately, the priceless crown was preserved. The crown of Notre Dame survived a fire at the cathedral.
What to see near Sainte-Chapelle
Notre Dame’s main feature is, however, in the Île de la Cité. The walk is only five minutes long along Quais Marché Neuf. For reading the green square of du vert Galant, which is just beside Saint-Chapelles and close to the courthouse and Conciergerie, I recommend a lovely little park.
You can’t come to this area without enjoying a crepe from Creperie du Palais or buying some fresh produce from the open-air market, Les Halles de Paris. If you want to sit down for a meal, there are plenty of options including La Tour d’Argent, Les Deux Magots, and Chez L’ami Jean.
Just a few steps from Sainte Chapelle is the Conciergerie. The former royal palace turned prison during the French Revolution is one of the most visited monuments in Paris. It’s where Marie Antoinette was held before she was executed by guillotine.
If you’re interested in learning more about the French Revolution, I recommend taking a guided tour of the Conciergerie. You can also visit the prison on your own, but I think it’s much more interesting to learn about the history of this place and how it fits into the French Revolution.
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Where to Eat Near Sainte Chappelle
There are a few restaurants and cafes near Sainte-Chapelle. I recommend grabbing a quick bite at one of these places:
- Le petit pontoise – A creperie located a minute away from the chapel on Rue Pontoise. They have sweet and savory crepes that will tantalize your taste buds.
- A la chapelle – This restaurant is located right next to the chapel on Rue de Mauconseil. They serve French cuisine with a modern twist. The dishes are simple but elegant and will definitely leave you wanting more.
- Le saint-christophe – This brasserie is located a few minutes away from the chapel on Rue Saint-Honore. They serve classic French dishes that will definitely satisfy your hunger.
If you’re looking for something sweet, there are a few places that you can check out:
- Berthillon – This is one of the most famous ice cream shops in Paris and they have a branch located near the chapel on Rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile.
- La maison des rois – This chocolate shop is located on Rue de la Cite and they have some of the most delicious chocolates that you will ever taste.
Even if you’re not religious, Saint Chapelle is definitely worth a visit. It’s truly a sight to behold given the amazing gothic architecture and amazing stained glass windows.
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How long does it take to visit Sainte Chapelle?
The time needed to visit Sainte Chapelle will vary depending on how long you spend admiring the beautiful stained glass windows. However, a good estimate would be about 1 hour.
Is there an admission fee to enter Sainte Chapelle?
There is an admission fee for adults of 8 euros, but students and children under 18 years old can enter for free. Admission fees go towards the restoration and maintenance of this historic building.
What are the opening hours for Sainte Chapelle?
Sainte Chapelle is open every day except Mondays, from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm. On Thursdays, it stays open until 9:00 pm.
What is the history of Sainte Chapelle?
Sainte Chapelle was built in the 13th century by King Louis IX to house the relics of Christ’s Passion, which he had purchased from the Byzantine Emperor. The upper chapel was consecrated in 1248, and the lower chapel followed shortly after. Over time, the building fell into disrepair but underwent a massive restoration in the 19th century. Today, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris.