If there is one iconic work of stained glass in Paris, surely it’s the Rose Windows at Notre Dame. Ah, but there is more than one. This is Paris, after all! So let’s take a look at nearby Sainte-Chapelle.
Our Lady of Paris: Notre Dame
Somewhere in the Rules of Travel, we’re pretty sure it says that, when you get to Paris, you must visit the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Paris. The medieval church on the Île de la Cité has been the literal and figurative heart of Paris since construction began in 1163. It still stands as one of the largest and most beautiful Catholic churches in all the world.
Once inside, you can’t help but marvel at the beauty of the Rose Windows. Three, in all, join the chorus of color that plays throughout the cathedral. Of the trio, the star is the Rose Sud – the south rose window – presented to the church by the King Saint, Louis IX, in 1258. It is a masterpiece worth seeing.
Once you’ve seen Notre Dame and its treasures, then what?
Exploring Île de la Citè
This is the birthplace of Paris, and it’s worth having a walk around. Across the island from Notre Dame is Pont Neuf and Place Dauphine, with restaurants, cafes, and fantastic views. In between, you’ll find the Conciergerie. The medieval royal palace was home to the Kings of France until the 14th Century. It was later a revolutionary tribunal, and eventually a prison where Marie Antoinette spent her final days.
Walking down Boulevard du Palais, you might notice the gables of Sainte-Chapelle peeking over a row of office buildings. Though you can’t see much from the street, you can tell it’s a beautiful building, and it should be on your itinerary.
The King’s Chapel: Sainte-Chapelle
The name translates as Holy Church, the king’s own chapel built in the courtyard of the royal palace. King Louis IX commissioned the chapel to house his collection of holy relics, including the Crown of Thorns, brought back from the Crusades. The chapel was consecrated in 1248, with a soaring azure ceiling over 15-meter tall stained glass windows. The church has been likened to an elaborate jewelry box, fitting for holding the Relics.
The chapel served political purposes, as well. The King’s artistic and architectural patronage established Louis the leader of western Christendom. He was positioning himself as the obvious successor to the Holy Roman Emperor, with Sainte-Chapelle being his own palatine chapel.
The Most Magnificent Windows in Paris
Not only are the 13th Century windows the most famous feature of Sainte-Chapelle, they are among the finest in the world. The fifteen huge window panes fill the nave and apse, with a large rose window added to the upper chapel around 1490.
More than 1,000 windows depict 1,130 biblical figures. The windows of the apse illustrate the New Testament, while windows in the nave are from the Old Testament. One set of windows continues Louis’ narrative of sacred kingship. They show the rediscovery of the relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris by King Louis.
After nearly a thousand years in the heart of Paris, the windows had been in need of repair and cleaning. A seven year, $10-million restoration project was completed in 2015, in time for King Louis’ 800th birthday. The laser cleaning and protection of the windows was the last stage of chapel restorations begun in the 1970s. The renovations included replacement of the steeple atop the chapel, which had been removed in the 1800s.
Today, you can see the King’s chapel as close to its original design as it’s ever been. It’s a moving experience to see the windows of Sainte-Chapelle in their full glory. It is truly a “don’t miss” destination for your Paris To Do list, because they are the most magnificent windows in Paris. Maybe, in the world.
When You Go
- Sainte-Chapelle is less than a block from the Cité Metro 4 station, and just across the bridge from the RER/Metro 4 Saint-Michel-Notre-Dame station.
- Bus lines 21, 27, 38, 85, 96 and Balabus stop at Sainte-Chapelle, also.
- The entrance on Boulevard du Palais is also the entrance to the court buildings. Make sure you’re in the right line.
- Adult tickets to Sainte-Chapelle are 10€, or 15€ for a combination ticket to see Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie. Children under 18 are free. There is a 1€ fee when purchasing online.
- The Paris Museum Pass is accepted at both Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie, and is available by itself or as part of the Paris Pass.
- Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie open daily at 9am, until 9pm from April through September, 7pm October through March. Both sites are closed 1 January, 1 May, and 25 December.
- Bags are checked on entering, and bags larger than 55cm x 35cm x 20cm (roughly 20in x 14in x 8in) are not allowed.
- It’s important to note that the stained-glass windows are in the upper chapel. The stairway is very steep and narrow, and there is no other access.
Have you been to Sainte-Chapelle? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for our updates (All wham, no spam!) or sharing with your friends on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter with the buttons below. (A million thanks in advance!)
Watch the unveiling of the Rose of the Apocalypse, from Centre des Monuments Nationaux: