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Encyclopedia > Sainte Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle (French for The Holy Chapel) is a Gothic chapel on the Ile de la CitÚ in the heart of Paris, France. It is perhaps the high point of the full tide of the rayonnante period of Gothic architecture.


It was planned in 1241, started in 1246 and quickly completed: it was consecrated on April 26, 1248. The patron was the very devout Louis IX of France, who constructed it as a chapel for the royal palace. The palace itself has otherwise utterly disappeared, leaving the Sainte-Chapelle all but surrounded by the Palais de Justice, which carries on a single function of the palace, which was the site of the king's lit de justice where important aristocrats pled their cases before the king.

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Interior of upper chapel

The Sainte-Chapelle needed suitable relics: Christ's crown of thorns was possibly available. Unlike many devout aristocrats, who swiped relics, the saintly Louis bought his precious relics of the Passion, purchased from the Latin emperor at Constantinople, Baldwin II, for the exorbitant sum of 135,000 livres. The entire chapel, by contrast, cost 40,000 livres to build. A piece of the True Cross was added, and other relics. Thus the building was like a precious reliquary. At the same time, it reveals Louis' political and cultural ambition, with the imperial throne at Constantinople occupied by a mere Count of Flanders and with the Holy Roman Empire in uneasy disarray, to be the central monarch of western Christendom. Just as the Emperor could pass privately from his palace into Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, so now Louis could pass directly from his palace into the Sainte-Chapelle.

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The Saint Chapelle rises above the rooflines of the royal palace on the Ile de la CitÚ in a miniature by the Limbourg brothers, ca 1400

The Royal chapel stands squarely upon a lower chapel which served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the palace, which was the seat of government (see "palace"). The king was later granted sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Louis.


The most visually beautiful aspects of the chapel, and considered the best of their type in the world, are its stained glass for which the stonework is a delicate framework, and rose windows added to the upper chapel in the 15th century.


No designer-builder is directly mentioned in archives concerned with the construction, but the name of Pierre de Montreuil, who had rebuilt the apse of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis and completed the fašade of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris is sometimes connected with the Sainte-Chapelle.


During the French Revolution, the chapel was converted to an administrative office, and the windows were obscured by enormous filing cabinets. Their all-but-forgotten beauty was thereby inadvertently protected from the vandalism in which the choir stalls and the rood screen were destroyed, the spire pulled down and the relics dispersed. In the 19th century Viollet-le-Duc restored the Sainte-Chapelle: the current spire is his sensitive deign.


The Sainte-Chapelle has been a national historic monument since 1862.


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