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About the Sainte Chapelle in Paris
The Sainte Chapelle in Paris is one of the top sights to visit in the French capital, both for its beauty and fascinating history. This medieval building is located on Ile de la Cité, in Paris 1, not far from the Conciergerie or Notre Dame Cathedral.
Originally part of the Royal Residence, the Sainte Chapelle in Paris is the finest royal chapel to be built in France and it features a truly exceptional collection of stained glass windows. The visit to Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass windows is on our list of best things to do in Paris.
This Chapel can’t be seen from the street because it’s set within Paris Courthouse. The only way to visit Sainte Chapelle, even from outside, is with a ticket.
The Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass windows are one of the top sights to visit in Paris. We recommend visiting the Sainte Chapelle in the following Paris itineraries:
- 1 day in Paris itinerary
- 2 days in Paris itinerary
- 3 days in Paris itinerary
- 4 days in Paris itinerary
- 5 days in Paris itinerary
- 6 days in Paris itinerary
Best Time to Visit Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass Windows
GOOD TO KNOW. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the visitor capacity is reduced and you are strongly encouraged to book your tickets online, well in advance, with a specific date and time slot. Tickets cannot be purchased on-site at Sainte Chapelle. You can only buy tickets online or on-site at the Conciergerie, located next to the Sainte Chapelle.
Best Time to Visit Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass Windows for Photography
Flash photography in the Sainte Chapelle is prohibited so natural lighting is paramount.
The best time to visit Sainte Chapelle in Paris to capture the Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass windows in all their glory is during sunset (one hour or so before sunset). In summertime sunset timing is around 9.30 pm whilst in wintertime is around 4 pm.
When the sun is overhead, the rays don’t enter at an angle so it is not a good time for photography.
Best Time to Visit Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass Windows to Avoid the Crowds
Sunset is the most crowded time to visit Sainte Chapelle so if you are not that interested in photography avoid sunset.
Try to visit Sainte Chapelle first thing in the morning when it is not crowded yet and you can explore the Chapel in peace.
If possible, choose a sunny day for visiting Sainte Chapelle. Cloudy days are not ideal but in these days all the windows are evenly lit. When the sun is out then, at best, half are lit.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Sainte Chapelle has reduced the number of visitors inside. We strongly recommend buying your skip the line tickets online and well in advance.
TIP: Visit Sainte Chapelle + the Conciergerie with this skip-the-line combo ticket and save time and money!
Best Time to Visit Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass Windows for a Unique Experience
The Sainte Chapelle proposes classical music concerts (1 hour) in the evening. This is a unique experience, enjoying the music and the spectacular setting, with the Sainte Chapelle’s stained glass windows.
Of course, at this time regular visitors have gone and there’s plenty of time before and after the concert to walk around and visit the chapel in peace.
Facts about Sainte Chapelle in Paris
The Sainte Chapelle in Paris was built in the mid 13th century by King Louis IX (future Saint Louis), at the heart of the Royal Residence, the Palais de la Cité. It was built to house the relics of the Passion of Christ and served as the private chapel of the Royal Family.
Built in gothic style, this Chapel has a particular design in two different stages: the lower level was used by the staff of the Royal Palace while the upper level was used by the Royal Family and their guests.
The Upper Chapel is adorned with a unique collection of stained glass windows. The Sainte Chapelle windows consist of 15 panels and a large rose window. The panels tell the story of the Bible, and how the relics that were housed there came to Paris.
King Louis IX bought the saint relics to the Emperor Baudouin II of Constantinople. Originally there were 22 relics, being the Crown of Thorns the most important.
The Crown of Thorns was bought for 135,000 livres tournois – about half of the annual income of the royal domain at that time – while the construction of the Sainte Chapelle cost about 40,000 livres tournois, three times less than the Crown of Thorns.
There are other Sainte Chapelles in France but the Sainte Chapelle in Paris was the first one. To be considered as ‘Sainte Chapelle’ it needs to follow some criteria:
- Have the same proportions as the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, but not necessarily its dimensions
- Host at least one relic of the Passion of Christ
The nearest Sainte Chapelle is the one located inside Château de Vincennes. Commissioned by King Charles V, it was consecrated under the rule of King Henri II and it hosted a fragment of the Holy Cross brought from the Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Don’t miss this beautiful (and recently restored) Chapel and also Château de Vincennes, one of the most beautiful castles near Paris!
Visiting Sainte Chapelle and Sainte Chapelle’s Windows
The visit of Sainte Chapelle starts with the Lower Chapel, which was dedicated to parish services. The dark atmosphere of this Chapel evokes a crypt.
The nave has four bays. Construction of the vaults raised some technical problems due to the dimensions of the Chapel and small columns reinforced with tie beams were added to reduce the width which had to be covered.
In this chapel, the vaults are decorated with fleur de Lys. The fleur de Lys is also found on the columns, and ribs, alternating with towers and they symbolize King Louis IX and his mother Blanche of Castille.
- The oldest wall painting in Paris (13th century). Located on the left side, above the door to the former sacristy, it depicts the Annunciation
- The beautiful choir, with the statue of Saint Louis. The black columns were added to support the weight of the heavy reliquary located in the Upper Chapel
- The walls’ decoration, with 12 medallions featuring the apostles.
A hidden staircase at the side of the entrance leads to the Upper Chapel, used by the Royal Family. This chapel has four bays and a seven section choir.
Here, the walls are much taller than in the Lower Chapel and they are in great part covered only by colorful stained glasses giving the feeling of entry into the Heavenly Jerusalem, bathed in light and color.
In this chapel, the vaults are decorated with stars instead of fleur de Lys
The Upper Chapel hosted the Saint Relics, inside the Great Shrine. This was melted during the French Revolution and now the relics are part of the Treasure of Notre Dame (saved from the fire).
- Sainte Chapelle windows
- Sainte Chapelle rose window, depicting St John’s vision of the Apocalypse – This is depicted on the rose window facing West in line with the setting of the sun
- The 100 foliage-decorated capitals along the lateral walls, all different
- The Upper Chapel’s porch. Its tympanum represents the Last Judgement and it deserves to admire it with attention to the details.
Sainte Chapelle’s Stained Glass Windows
The 15 windows (15.4 m height and 4.25 m width) are considered as masterworks of the art of stained glass. They are composed of 1,113 little pieces of glass and most of them date from the 13th century.
Only five colors are used in the Sainte Chapelle windows – blue (from cobalt), red and green (from copper), purple (from manganese), and yellow (from antimony).
Details such as facial expressions and folds in fabric were added with the ‘grisaille’ technique. This technique uses a mixture of powdered glass and iron oxide, diluted in water and vinegar. The mixture is applied to the colored glass with a paintbrush.
The painted pieces of glass are then fired a second time at 600C to fix the grisaille.
Then the pieces of glass are assembled scene by scene and held together with strips of channeled lead. Finished sections of the stained glass windows are never very large, to make sure that they don’t collapse under their own weight.
In the 13th century, much of the world’s population was illiterate, that’s why churches were decorated with sculptures, stained glass, and paintings telling stories of the Bible.
The Sainte Chapelle stained glass windows are like a book that tells the story of the Bible, and how the relics that were housed there came to Paris.
To read all these stories, start at the first window on the left side of the Upper Chapel. You should read these stories from left to right and from the bottom upwards.
- Left side: Genesis, Exodus, Book of Numbers, The Book of Joshua
- Chorus (from left to right): The Book of Judges, The book of Isaiah and the Jesse Tree, Saint John the Evangelist and the Childhood of Christ, The Passion of Christ, Saint John the Baptist and the Book of Daniel, The Book of Ezekiel, The Books of Jeremiah and Tobias
- Right side (from the choir to the porch): The Books of Judith and Job, The Book of Esther, The Book of Kings, The history of the relics of the Passion
The last window shows St Louis as the legitimate successor to the Biblical rulers (on the previous window). It depicts the finding of the relics and the true cross in Jerusalem by St Helena, their journey to Byzantium, their purchase by St Louis, and their final resting place in Sainte Chapelle.