10 Reasons to Visit the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
In case you needed another reason to visit Paris, I’ve got one coming right up! Introducing, the Sainte-Chapelle.
Sainte-Chapelle translates to English as Royal Chapel, and that is exactly was it was when it was constructed in the 13th century under the orders of King Louis IX, the future Saint-Louis. He had it built to house his collection of religious relics, which included the Crown of Thorns.
The chapel is filled with stunning stained glass windows, beautifully painted ceilings and more. Keep reading for my 10 reasons to visit the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris!
Entry fee: 10 euros
Opening hours: Open every day. January 2-March 31 9am-5pm, April 1-September 30 9am-7pm, October 1-December 31 9am-5pm
Address: 10 boulevard du Palais 75001 Paris
1. You can visit the Île de la Cité
Paris is separated across the middle by the Seine River. This is where the terms “Left Bank” and “Right Bank” come from. The Left Bank is the lower part of Paris, and the Right Bank is the upper part. I’m including this here because even as someone who has lived in Paris for over 5 years, I still sometimes get confused! I’m directionally challenged, what can I say?!
In the middle of the Seine you’ll find 2 islands: the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis. The Sainte-Chapelle is located on the Île de la Cité, along with the Notre-Dame, the Palais de Justice and the Conciergerie.
Don’t miss the Marche aux Fleurs (the flower market in English) as well: a giant flower market just outside the metro station Cité (the closest station to the Sainte-Chapelle).
I definitely recommend that you gives yourselves ample time to explore the Île de la Cité before you enter the Sainte-Chapelle. And, make sure to have your cameras ready! The island also boasts some beautifully classic Parisian architecture.
2. You can see the most extensive collection of 13th century stained glass windows in the world
The Sainte-Chapelle is most famous for it’s collection of stained glass windows. In fact, the chapel boasts the most extensive collection of 13th century stained glass in the world!
Inside the Upper Chapel (more on the differences between the 2 chapels coming up!) there are 15 stained glass windows that are over 15 meters tall. 14 of the windows tell the story of the Bible, with 1,113 biblical figures displayed in total.
Stained glass windows were initially created to help illiterate people understand the Bible. If you want to “read” the windows as they were meant to be read back in the 13th century, start with the first window on the left side of the chapel and “read” the images from top to bottom.
The last window depicts the discovery of the religious relics that King Louis IX built the chapel for. They show the miracles that they performed, and their journey with the king to their final resting place in Paris.
The windows are an absolutely stunning mixture of blue, red, green, purple and yellow. The chapel underwent a major restoration from 2008-2014, and the results are incredible! You’ll want to spend a lot of time admiring the craftsmanship.
3. You can see a 15th century rose stained glass window
Like many churches in Paris, new features were added to the Sainte-Chapelle as the centuries went by. In the 15th century in particular, an 82 petal rose window was added that depicts Saint John’s Book of Revelation.
The images on this window are fairly small, so you’ll have to look closely to get a good look. This is a great resource that will tell you exactly what you’re looking at!
4. You can see the ancient relic shrine
When you enter the Upper Chapel, you’ll see a shrine on the furthermost wall in front of you. While the shrine is empty now, it is where King Louis IX’s relics were held. It is located just below the stained glass windows that depict the Passion of Christ, and is the focal point of the room.
You can’t miss the shrine: it looks like an altar with a roof over it. Today, it has become the stage where musicians play when there are concerts held in the chapel.
5. You can explore the Lower Chapel
The Sainte-Chapelle is actually made up of 2 separate chapels: the Lower Chapel and the Upper Chapel. The Upper Chapel was created for the royal family and their friends to worship in, while the Lower Chapel was meant for the palace employees.
When you enter the Sainte-Chapelle, you’ll find yourself in the Lower Chapel. You know you’re in the right place when you see the statue of the Virgin Mary. The chapel is dedicated to her, and you’ll notice that various spotlights have been installed to really make the statue the star of the show.
There are a few stained glass windows here as well that you should take a moment to admire before you head upstairs. Notice that the ceiling is painted a bright blue, with a yellow fleur de lys pattern.
There are 12 medallions on the walls that represent the 12 Apostles. There is also a 13th century wall fresco, but more on that later!
6. And you can admire the Upper Chapel
After you’ve spent some time in the Lower Chapel, it’s time to go upstairs to see the Upper Chapel. This part of the Sainte-Chapelle was (literally) fit for a king, as this is where King Louis IX and his family came to worship. It is here where mass was held, and where the relics could be appreciated.
The 15 stained glass windows that I mentioned can be found here as well! You’re going to want to spend most of your time here. Study the windows from left to right, and top to bottom in order to learn different stories from the Bible. You’ll find the Book of Genesis, the Book of Exodus, the Passion of Christ and the Book of Kings, to name a few.
Try not to be taken aback by the vaulted ceilings that boast the same blue background and fleur de lys pattern. The painting in the Sainte-Chapelle comes in second only to the stained glass windows, as it has been wonderfully restored. It’s rare to see a church with paint, as understandably it is one of the hardest features to maintain in such an old structure. You may find that these colors are fairly bright considering the austere design of the Sainte-Chapelle, but historians have actually found that the original colors were even brighter!
Here, you’ll find 12 statues of the Apostles rather than the medallions you saw in the Lower Chapel. 6 of the statues are original, and the remaining 6 are reproductions. The original damaged statues can be found in the Musée national du Moyen Âge, otherwise known as the Cluny Museum, which is located in the 5th arrondissement.
7. You can learn about King Louis IX
The Sainte-Chapelle wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for King Louis IX, so take some time to study the information that the chapel provides on the French king.
He was a very religious king, who found in 2 Crusades and collected religious relics. He was also known to severely punished those who went against the principles of Christianity. In 1239, he purchased over 20 different relics from the emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin II. He paid 135,000 livres for them, and in later years, he spent an additional 100,000 livres on a special silver chest to house them, called the Grand-Chasse. Not sum was too much for King Louis IX when it came to his relics.
In 1242, he commissioned the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle. The chapel was built in just 6 years, and was consecrated in 1248. The king through a huge party to celebrate the completion of the chapel.
Every Good Friday, King Louis IX himself took out his relics and showed them to those lucky enough to be inside the chapel. After his death, he was canonized as a saint in 1297. Saint-Louis is the only French king to ever be recognized as a saint.
8. You can appreciate the Gothic architecture
There are many Gothic churches in Paris, and Sainte-Chapelle is one of them. The chapel boasts a specific type of Gothic architecture which is called “Rayonnant.” Rayonnant Gothic architecture is specific to France, and is recognizable by its use of large windows and high ceilings. Once you’ve been to the Sainte-Chapelle once, you can clearly see that it is designed in the Rayonnant style!
Interestingly enough, the architect responsible for the Sainte-Chapelle is unknown! There are a few theories as to who it was, but none have ever been proven. Master mason Pierre de Montreuil, who is credited with working on the Notre-Dame and the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis, is the most popular candidate. Other master masons have also been considered, like Jean de Chelles and Thomas de Cormont. Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll never know who really designed the chapel!
9. You can see the oldest wall fresco in Paris
I’ve already briefly mentioned the wall fresco in the Lower Chapel in the Sainte-Chapelle. Not only does the Sainte-Chapelle boast the most extensive collection of 13th century stained glass in the world, it also boasts the oldest wall paining in Paris!
The 13th century fresco is located in the Lower Chapel, and portrays the Annunciation. This is the moment when the Archangel Gabriel tells the Virgin Mary that she will cary and give birth to the Savoir, or Jesus Christ.
The Sainte-Chapelle is filled with hidden gems like this wall fresco!
10. You can listen to classical music in the Sainte-Chapelle
One of my favorite ways to experience the Sainte-Chapelle, is to go to a classical music concert. The company Euromusic Productions puts on concerts multiple times per week in the Upper Chapel.
As you can imagine, the chapel has great acoustics, thanks to the vaulted ceilings. Here, you can listen to soloists and sets of musicians. They perform classic pieces originally brought to life by musicians like Mozart and Vivaldi.
Listening to classical music, in an equally classic setting? Doesn’t it sound like a dream?! I think so too. If you’re looking for an evening activity to do in Paris, you’ve found it! Visit their website to see the schedule and book your tickets. Be care: the concerts sell out quickly!
Have I convinced you how important it is to visit the Sainte-Chapelle yet?! I hope so! This lesser known Parisian monument needs to be added to your “must-see-in-Paris” list.
Explore the Île de la Cité, admire beautiful 13th century stained glass windows and wall paintings, and pay homage to Saint-Louis. There are so many things to see!
If you want to learn more about Paris and it’s monuments, I suggest that you join one of our walking tours led by our local guides! You’re sure to learn a lot, and see all there is to see in Paris along the way! Click here to learn more and make your booking.
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