The Sainte-Chapelle in 10 figures and anecdotes

Built in the 13th century at the request of King Saint-Louis to house the relics of Christ, the Sainte-Chapelle is visited today for the beauty of its stained glass windows, among the most sumptuous in the world. To better understand the exceptional nature of this monument, discover 10 figures and anecdotes about this jewel of Gothic art. 


1. King Louis IX

King Louis IX (future Saint-Louis) had the Sainte-Chapelle built in the heart of his royal palace located on the Ile de la Cité to house the relics purchased from Emperor Baudouin II of Constantinople. He had pledged these relics to a Venetian bank to finance the expenses of his Empire.

2. acquired by Saint-Louis

Originally, 22 relics were acquired by Saint-Louis. Only 3 remain today: a fragment of the cross, a nail, and the crown of thorns. They were deposited at the Abbey of Saint-Denis during the French Revolution, then handed over in 1804 to the Archbishop of Paris, preserved today in the  treasury of Notre-Dame de Paris . The Sainte-Chapelle no longer houses these relics.

3. The crown

The crown of thorns was bought for 135,000 tournament pounds, a considerable sum for the time, since it represented about half of the annual income of the royal domain. The construction of the Sainte-Chapelle cost about 40,000 pounds tournaments, three times less than the crown of thorns!

4. Two chapels

The Sainte-Chapelle is made up of two chapels: the lower chapel, originally dedicated to palace servants and officers, and the upper chapel, dedicated to the king and his family.

5.the main architect

We do not know the main architect of the Sainte-Chapelle, nor the craftsmen who worked on the design of the stained glass windows. Which is not an anomaly for the time. The artist – and no longer the craftsman – and the signed work – glorifying a man and no longer a corporation – appeared during the Renaissance. cathedral

A veritable « glass cathedral », the upper chapel is made up of 618 m2 of glazed surface. An admirable combination of lightness and balance.

7. Restoration

Both chapels were completely restored in the 19th century. While the decoration of the upper chapel has remained faithful to the original as a whole, the lower chapel has been entirely “reinvented”, for lack of sufficient documentation.

8.Good Friday

Every year, from the altar of the upper chapel, Saint-Louis showed the relics to Parisians on Good Friday.

9.The 15 windows

The 15 windows (about 15 meters high by 4.5 meters wide) of the upper chapel represent 1113 scenes from the Bible, from Adam and Eve to the Apocalypse. Saint-Louis himself represented himself on some of these stages!

10. Rose window

The rose window is in the Flamboyant Gothic style, a name that comes from the flame effects used for the stained glass windows. It does not date from the 13th century like the windows, but from the 15th century. It has 87 petals.

Built on the Ile de la Cité , the  Sainte-Chapelle  (also called Sainte-Chapelle du Palais) was specially built to house the Crown of Thorns, a piece of the True Cross and other relics of the Passion.

A monument worthy of hosting the most beautiful relics

At the beginning of the 13th century, Emperor Baldwin II of Courtenay, the last emperor of Constantinople, urgently needed financial support. In order to be helped as soon as possible, he puts on sale the most precious of his relics: the  Crown of Thorns , that is to say the crown placed on the head of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion. In the hope of finding a buyer as well as an ally to start a new crusade, in 1237 he undertook a long trip to Europe during which he met the French king Louis IX. If the latter is reluctant to start a new expedition, he is however very interested in the Holy Crown and the relics pledged in Venice. In return for the sum of 135,000 pounds, the Crown of Thorns was brought to France and arrived in Paris in 1239.

The next day, a great ceremony is organized, during which the relic is placed in the chapel of Saint-Nicolas de la Cité. Three years later, two new relics sold by Baudouin II reach Paris: the  relic of the Passion  and part of the  True Cross (cross on which Jesus would have been crucified). Considered to be direct witnesses to the story of Jesus and his crucifixion, the three relics which the king is in possession of are particularly venerated by Christians. Louis IX therefore decided to place these precious relics in a much more prestigious place than the small Saint-Nicolas chapel. He thus ordered the construction of a new chapel within the walls of the former royal palace on the Ile de la Cité, specially intended to house the holy relics.

By the operation of the Holy Spirit…

Strangely, the name of the architect behind the Sainte-Chapelle is still uncertain today. The name of Pierre de Montreuil has been mentioned in certain writings but no text really confirms the hypothesis. In 1240, this architect whose life is poorly known and whose sources diverge as to his works, was already a man of a certain age who was largely in favor with the king. If some texts put forward his name, none certify that he is indeed the author of the project. The name of the architect of the Sainte-Chapelle therefore remains uncertain.

Still, in 1242, work began to be completed in 1248; a feat when you see the magnificent architectural achievement that is the chapel. No technical and stylistic errors were made. The chapel is quite simply a true example of precision and architectural finesse.

Lower chapel and upper chapel

Entirely dedicated to the Virgin, the  lower chapel  of the Sainte-Chapelle was once reserved for regulars of the palace. It challenges by the darkness that reigns there. This almost mystical lighting is due to the small size of the windows that adorn this room whose ceiling, located very low, is the floor of the upper chapel.

Dedicated to the relics of the Crucifixion and located above the lower chapel, the  upper chapel  is directly connected to the first floor of  the Royal Palace  by a small door. Access to the upper chapel was therefore at the time totally reserved for the royal family. The atmosphere, the airy architectural style, the vast stained glass windows and the warmly colored light present in this room contrast surprisingly with the half-light of the lower chapel. At the back of the room, a huge rose window dominates the entrance and floods the floor, the walls and the sculptures of the chapel with light.a church

A symbol of abused royalty

A true emblem of royalty, the Sainte Chapelle was one of the first targets of the revolutionaries of 1789. Although two thirds of its stained glass windows are from the period, the various restorations that the building has undergone have removed some of its panels. Similarly, among the twelve statues of the apostles located directly above the pillars of the warheads, only those that adorn the platform located in front of the apse are authentic. The other statues are replicas of which the originals, damaged during the French Revolution, were stored in the Cluny museum.

The furniture, but also the stalls, the rood screen and all the royal insignia were also destroyed during this period. The reliquaries and caskets were transferred to the Hôtel de la Monnaie to be melted down. In the end, only the Crown of Thorns could be saved from this carnage. In order to have shelving, two meters of stained glass were removed from the upper chapel, temporarily converted into an archive repository. Most of the windows thus removed were sold to England.

From 1840 to 1868, work was finally undertaken to restore the entire building in order to restore its original appearance and its heritage value.