In the center of Paris, wedged in the Palace of Justice’s courtyard, is La Sainte-Chapelle; a classic piece of Gothic architecture. It is situated on the Ile de la Cité, an island on the Seine. And even though it is not as popular as the neighboring Notre-Dame, this small medieval church is a brilliant combination of glass and masonry. For enthusiasts of ancient architecture as well as travelers who are into church tourism, Sainte Chappelle is the perfect place to start an adventure and definitely worth visiting.
Constructed and dedicated in the 1200s at the request of the French King Louis IX, Sainte Chapelle was a large repository of relics. Apparently, the monarch had a thing for antiquity, so he collected many items. Many people believe that the piece of the ‘true cross’ where Jesus was crucified and the crown of thorns worn by him are among the items in the collection. It is even said that the King doled out more funds for the relics than he did for the shrine constructed to contain them. And it is an astounding shrine.
Sainte Chapelle, along with the Conciergerie that is close by, is made up of the oldest parts of the 10th century Palais de la Cite, which used to be the royal residence and seat of power. The sanctuary is also made up of two levels as a double palatine chapel. La Chapelle Basse (the lower chapel) is where the palace staff worship, and its interior with embellished ceiling and arches, is stunning even though it is less inviting than the level above. This section was originally built for the servants. It has a low vaulted ceiling painted in red, blue, and gold and adorned with fleur-de-lis motifs.
The La Chapelle Haute (upper chapel) is the one that an overwhelming majority of visitors come to see. A beautiful setting of color, with walls that look as though they were made of glass- this is where the monarch and his royal family worshipped and where the consecrated relics were enclosed. On the windows, bible stories are chronicled, too, and the story of how the relics made their way to France. Although much of the chapel was devastated in the Revolution, most of the 1200s glass can still be seen today.
The much-acclaimed crown of thorns is now secured in the Treasury of Notre Dame Cathedral. Other items of antiquity include statues, manuscripts, and architectural elements that have been taken away from Sainte Chapelle and are part of the assemblages of Musée du Louvre, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and Musée de Cluny.
>>Also Read: Must-See Cathedrals in Paris and France
Tips Making A Visit to Sainte Chapelle Worth It
If the Sainte Chapelle is on your itinerary, do not forget to visit on a sunny day as early as possible. Alternatively, visit in the late afternoon when the sun tends to be at a lower angle and shines unhindered through the windows.
Much of the Sainte Chappelle experience is indoors. Still, all of those gorgeous stained glasses look their brightest when entirely lit by sunlight. When you arrive, you might see a long queue if you do not come early enough in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Given Sainte Chappelle’s small size, there is a limit to the number of visitors allowed in per time. But on the flip side, though, there are lots of resources that suggest that the sanctuary can be a quick visit.
Visitors will find Sainte Chapelle interactive. They can rent and listen to comprehensive audio guides. These guides cover the meaning of specific works of stained glass and the history of major personalities who played significant roles in the sanctuary’s story.
Things Worth Doing Near the Sainte Chapelle
Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral
Among the main things to do close to the Sainte Chapelle is a visit to the Notre Dame cathedral. Take some time to check around and look at the exterior of the building just before entering the cathedral. You won’t just see many sculptures alone. There are suspending buttresses, which are a characteristic of Gothic architecture.
When you enter, also look for the magnificent stained glass. Observe the rose window: the style is similar to that of the glossy one in Sainte Chapelle. Also inside the Notre Dame is the crown of the thorn of Jesus. Sainte Chapelle used to be the home of the crown of thorn before it was moved away when the sanctuary was desacralized. I recommend that you climb the rooftop before leaving Notre Dame. Do this not just for the resplendent views over the city of Paris but also for the interesting close-ups on the gargoyles.
>>Also Read: Best Things To Do In Paris
Step Into the Conciergerie
Among the numerous things to do near the Sainte Chapelle is a visit to the Conciergerie. From the 10th to the 14th-century, this structure remained a part of the King’s palace. It would later serve as a prison. And in the Revolution in 1789, more than 2000 people were brought behind its bars. It is said that the Queen Marie-Antoinette spent her last night here before being executed in 1793. Watch out for the big hall with gothic arches. It is one of those to see at the Conciergerie.
>>Also Read: Most Popular Tourist Attractions in France
Get Flowers At The Flower Market
This market is close to the facade of the Sainte Chapelle. Since 1808, the market has been there on Sundays. There is a bird market as well that you should try. It gives you the chance to be a little far away from the city bustles. In her last state visit on 6th June 2014, the Queen of England Elizabeth II visited here after the commemoration of D-Day. The market has been named after her since then.
>>Also Read: Most Famous Monuments in Paris
See ‘Place Dauphine’
The Place Dauphine- Dauphine square- can be found if you head towards the island’s tip. When you check it out, bear in mind that you are seeing the oldest square in Paris. The blend of stones and brick is typically from the early 17th-century. You should also check out the restaurants and cafes there as they are chic and affordable (they are less touristic).
>>Also Read: Most Famous Monuments In France
Take a Look at The ‘Pont-Neuf’
The Pont-Neuf is Paris’ oldest bridge. It was formerly built in stone, and without any buildings on it. Many people visit the bridge for its elegance and simplicity. There is Lapérouse restaurant, too, on the Left Bank, just across the bridge. It enjoyed fame in the 19th-century and was known to be the first restaurant with private dining rooms.
Visit the ‘Pont des Arts’, the Lovers’ Bridge
Indeed, going to Pont des Arts should not be among the closest things to do close to the Sainte Chapelle as it is about a 15-minute walk. But it is too remarkable to pass on. The Pont des Arts bridge used to be famous for its romantic tradition: couples putting padlocks on the bridge’s railing and throwing the key into the river- an act to seal love forever. Today, the tradition has ceased to exist.
All the padlocks had to be removed since they were weighing and damaging the bridge. While you would not be able to lock your padlock with your lover, you will undoubtedly revel in having an awesome view without padlocks spoiling the fun.
>>Also Read: Most Beautiful Bridges in Paris
Take a Break on The Banks
In the summer, a very Parisian thing to do is to grab a drink, get something to eat, and relax on the banks of the Seine River. You can also people-watch this way. This can be particularly relaxing if you need to catch your breath from all the visiting and walking.
>>Also Read: Best Things To Do In Paris
Take a Stroll in The Latin Quarter
The Latin Quarter is a student quarter with strait twisting streets, marked with many shops selling food and cafes. It is lively and original. Among the things to do here is a visit to the Pantheon that was built in the 18th-century, where popular Frenchmen are buried. Victor Hugo’s resting place is here. And if you want a rendezvous with nature, the nearby Luxembourg Gardens are manicured for that.
Taste Paris’ Best Ice-Cream at Berthillon
You will need to take a break from your strolls and visits. A rewarding thing to do close to the Sainte Chapelle is to visit Bertillon, Paris’ most popular ice-cream café situated in the heart of Ile Saint-Louis, the nearby island. The ice-creams produced here are made from only natural products and are the best you can get in the city. There are many ice-cream flavors, even authentic ones like foie-gras, lavender, or tea.
>>Also Read: Where To Eat The Best Ice Cream in Paris
Is Sainte Chapelle Worth it? – Summary
At Sainte Chapelle, it is possible to have a genuinely satisfying visit in under half-an-hour in the morning. But there is always the other option that involves a thorough approach to exploring the chapel prior to watching it in its full beauty as the sunset and the crowds vacate. If you are visiting Paris for the first time, the chapels’ captivating history and gripping beauty are the ideal encounters you should have first. It is bound to be one of your favorite things in the City of Light for a long, long time.