La Chapelle Expiatoire Paris (the Expiatory Chapel) is one of those hidden gems which blends, history, art and architecture and offers a quiet oasis not far from the busy Grands Boulevards. Built on the location of an ancient cemetery (le Cimitière de la Madeleine) which received hundreds of corpses during the revolutionary days, the chapel was indeed constructed at the exact point where King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were buried after their execution in 1793.
In 1814 France restored the monarchy with Louis XVIII. It was King Louis XVIII, Louis XVI’s brother, who ordered to move the rests of the royal couple to Basilique de Saint Denis and built this chapel to honor their memory. Designed by the architect Fontaine (1816-1826), the Chapelle Expiatoire’s main purpose was to ask for pardon on behalf of France.
THE CHAPEL’S ARCHITECTURE
Fontaine designed a chapel in a Neo-classical style, taking some elements from Roman and Greek antiquity, Middle Ages and Renaissance. The decoration is very minimalist, reminding us that this chapel is a memory place.
Inside the chapel we can find the statues of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI is ascending to Heaven with the help of an angel. The pedestal is engraved with the King’s testament, written before his execution. We especially liked the sculpture called “Marie Antoinette soutenue par la Religion” (Queen Marie Antoinette hold by Religion) designed by Jean Pierre Cortot in 1835. Queen Marie Antoinette, downhearted, asks Religion for help and Religion shows her the cross. Religion, a veiled woman, has the traits of Elisabeth, the king’s sister. Elisabeth, who also passed through the guillotine in 1794, received a last letter from the queen just few hours before Marie Antoinette death.
The altar in the crypt marks the exact location of the king’s body exhumation.
THE SWISS GUARDS’ TOMBS
We access to this nostalgic place through an alley flanked by some tombs. These tombs are just symbolic, they remind us of the Swiss Guards, the soldiers who died at the king’s service in 1792. On this green space in front of the chapel we can also find different kind of trees symbolizing the different social classes, all victims of the Revolution.
CHAPELLE EXPIATOIRE PARIS – PRACTICAL INFO
La Chapelle Expiatoire is in Paris 8. 29 Rue Pasquier, Paris 75008; M. Saint Agustin, L9; Vélib Station #8016
Open from Tuesday to Saturday
Tickets : Full price 6€. Free admission for people under 18, people from 18-25 (citizens of the 27 countries of the European Union and non-European residents regularly resident in France) and during speial occasions like Les Journées du Patrimoine (usually end of September).
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