Sainte-Chapelle is a decidedly interior space. To experience its full glory, you have to enter its depths, climbing from the lower chapel to the upper chapel. But it has an intimate relationship with the outdoors. At its origins, it was utterly dependent on the light of the sun for the stained glass to come to life. Morning light, evening light, a cloudy day, a full moon: these natural phenomena directly impact the interior experience of the space.
Sainte-Chapelle, built between 1242 and 1248 under Louis IX to house the relics of the Crown of Thorns, recently completed a seven-year restoration. The resulting space is spectacular, a feast of color, a quilt of light. I loved looking at the details of the scenes represented, as well as the different overall design schemes for each of the windows. Each series has different shapes and patterns, and I found myself marveling at how creative humans can be.
I visited the newly renovated chapel before noon on a Saturday, and the sun was shining directly through the stained glass behind the climax of the chapel: the altar designed to display the relics of the Crown of Thorns. It was a magnificent sight. The rays of light pierced the windows displaying scenes of the Passion of Christ, literally highlighting the story behind the relics. It felt like an intimate moment, somehow, with the light the sun pouring so intensely and honestly into the space.
I also enjoyed spending time with the exterior of Sainte-Chapelle. How do you house the chapel designed to house a very important relic? The answer, in this case, is Gothic-subtle. There are no flying buttresses or elaborate statuary; the iridescent stained glass is invisible beyond the dark bar tracery. The outdoor view gives little evidence of the delights within.
Sainte-Chapelle elegantly plays with simplicity and complexity, interior and exterior, man-made and natural.
Address: 4, boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris ∣ Métro: Cité (line 4) ∣ Opening hours: Every day, times vary depending on the season