Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France

It seems incredible that this huge and elaborate church is not only not a cathedral, but isn’t really even a proper church. It was built by Louis IX merely as somewhere to house the Holy Relics he had purchased from the Latin Emperor in Constantinople. These relics included Christ’s Crown of Thorns and some 30 other relics of the Passion for which Louis paid 135,000 livres in 1239 – a quite astounding amount of money (consider the Chapelle cost only 40,000 livres to construct). In 1241 Louis added a piece of the True Cross to his collection and by the time the Chapelle was consecrated in 1248 he had one of the most precious reliquary sets in Europe.

Louis (who was later canonised as Saint Louis, and it is he who the town in Missouri is named for) had great political ambitions. The Throne in Constantinople was occupied by a mere Count and the Holy Roman Empire at the time was in some disarray. Louis’ imperial aspirations are clear in that the Sainte-Chapelle has the same direct connection to his palace as the Hagia Sophia does to the Imperial Palace in Istanbul.

The architect is considered to be Peter of Metereau. Even though the outside of the Chapelle is quite breathtaking the interiors contain some of the best stained glass in the world, much of it dating to the 15th Century.

Sadly, the French Revolution was not kind to the Sainte-Chapelle. The steeple was removed, the relics dispersed (although a few managed to survive and are now in Notre Dame de Paris), the reliquaries were all melted down and two metres worth of glass was removed and sold. In 1855 Eugène Viollet-le-Duc started work on restoring the Chapelle to its original glory as best could be done. His work is faithful to all the original drawings of the Sainte-Chapelle and can be considered some of the very best church reconstruction undertaken anywhere in the world.

A replica of the Sainte-Chapelle stands in East Chestnut Street, Chicago, Illinois.

Photo - Andrew J. Müller

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