Sunday, December 11, 2016
Embraced by a Rainbow
While planning my trip to London back in September, I learned that close friends who live in Chicago were going to be in Paris that first weekend that I was in London. They suggested that I come over and spend a day with them and I thought it sounded like an excellent idea. I made the arrangements for a quick twenty-four hours in the City of Light and then started to think about where I'd like to go with such limited time. The decision turned out to be easier than I first thought. Ever since visiting Sainte-Chapelle years ago, I've wanted to go back with a better camera so I could capture the magnificent beauty of the place.
Once inside the complex courtyard, the chapel looms as a tall but somewhat nondescript building. Its rather plain exterior serves as a good disguise for its spectacular interior.
This church was built at the instruction of Louis IX, King of France to house holy relics he had acquired. The relics included the Crown of Thorns and fragments from the True Cross. Louis had purchased these items in 1239 from the Byzantine emperor Baldwin II for an exorbitant sum of money, 135,000 livres. The chapel itself only cost 40,000 livres to build so that should give you a idea of the price he paid. Construction was completed in 1248.
The structure is long and narrow and built in two stories. The lower chapel served as the palace parish for all the servants and palace workers to use. The upper chapel was where the relics were displayed at that time and served as the royal chapel for the king and his family.
Visitors enter through the lower chapel which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This chapel has low vaulted ceilings resting on fine columns. The ceiling is painted to resemble the star-filled heavens.
After climbing a narrow, spiral staircase we emerge into the upper chapel. To me, it's like stepping into a jewel box filled with precious jewels of every color. The upper chapel is virtually all stained glass. On a bright, sunny day it's like being embraced by a shimmering rainbow that bathes the interior with brilliant color.
The soaring ceiling is supported by very slender piers above spectacular stained glass windows that make up the walls of the chapel, 6,456 square feet in area. Each panel soars nearly fifty feet high. I read a quote somewhere that sums it up brilliantly; "This was a building designed to set the soul soaring and fill the mind with wonder." And, it's still doing that eight centuries later.
The panels of glass tell the full biblical story of humanity from creation through Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and so on. Every picture on the windows tells a story and they are in order if you read them up and down. I think anyone who tries will end up with a permanent crick in his neck from standing an looking upward for so long.
It is truly an amazing site to see and even with all the other wonderful things to see in Paris, I'm glad I returned to this impressive piece of Gothic architecture with its inspiring beauty.