The Gothic Masterpiece that you don't want to miss in Paris
For many Speaker guides, Sainte-Chapelle is the most beautiful monument in all of Paris and I do include myself in them.
Although almost 800 years old, it seems to stand outside of time.
Its striking stained-glass windows capture the sunlight, taking us through Biblical scenes immortalized in rich color.
These are stunning moments that you will remember forever!
It is a breathtaking hall of light created to house the most holy relics in all of France —including King Louis IX’s purchase of a crown of thorns believed to be the very one that Christ wore on the day of his crucifixion. To keep such a tremendously important religious object, no expense was spared.
It is hard to believe, standing in the upper level of this church, that it was constructed in the first half of the 13th century. Every detail is so precise, and the structure seems to defy gravity, though it is made out of heavy stone and fragile glass.
A visit to Sainte-Chapelle is often a favorite part of any trip to Paris.
You can book a special focus guided tour on Sainte-Chapelle with la Conciergerie or include the tour as a stop in our Car tour in Paris.
I will help you to understand the full story of this Gothic masterpiece and appreciate each loving detail. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity and I will help you with the reservation.
History of Sainte-Chapelle
Charlemagne created the foundations of modern France in the late 8th century. Long after that time, he stood as an example of what a king should be, and a major part of this was his deep connection to Christianity.
The kings that came after him wanted to follow in his footsteps, and using your power and wealth to support religion became a duty inseparable from the office of monarch in France. And what was a critical piece in this? Building a royal chapel.
A chapel is a place for Christians to worship, often smaller than what we might think of as a church. Charlemagne, for his part, built the famous Palatine Chapel where he placed his throne (if you’d like to visit, it’s a five hour drive from Paris).
By the time of Louis IX’s coronation in 1226, the idea of building a royal chapel had centuries of tradition behind it. He built his first in 1238, but this was only a single story. He still wanted to create something truly spectacular.
But first, he needed a reason for such an extravagant building. And so, he reached out to the emperor in Constantinople — Baldwin II. For the extremely high price of 135,000 livres, Louis IX purchased many relics. One was the Image of Edessa, a piece of cloth in which the likeness of Christ was said to have magically appeared. There were more than two dozen other items of interest. The most important of all, however, was the crown of thorns, which was said to be the very one the Christ wore.
When this treasure trove of relics arrived in Paris in the summer of 1239, the city underwent a week of celebration.
Later on, still more religiously significant treasures found their way to Louis’s France. These include a piece of the True Cross, a nail from the Cross, a piece of the Holy Lance, hair from the Virgin Mary, and many others.
These relics were safely kept in multiple chapels while construction of Sainte-Chapelle was underway. It wasn’t until 1248 that the work was complete and the relics found their home there.
The Completed Sainte-Chapelle
Upon completion, Sainte-Chapelle stood as the crowning achievement of the French Gothic style. Sitting on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine, it shined like a beacon to all of Europe.
The first floor lets visitors grow accustomed to the extraordinary architecture. Already, we can see the ways that the masonry is disguised by delicate ornamentation.
Everywhere we can find fleur de lis, a motif that continues as we move upward. We also find bundled colonettes. These are thin columns that are placed together to hide a single stone column. In this way, everything feels effervescent.
While the first level is undoubtedly a sight to behold, it was not the one meant for royalty. That is on the second floor, and it is here that the full wonder and awe-inspiring beauty of Sainte-Chapelle can be found.
On the second floor we find the Cage De Verre (or “glass cage”) — a mesmerizing scene made out of glass and thin stone columns held together by iron belts. The glazing work is truly magnificent, with 640 square meters (6,889 square feet) of stained glass depicting 1113 scenes from the Bible.
The sheer scope turned it into a Bible of light, the exact effect Louis IX wanted for his chapel. And because of the extreme vertical orientation of these windows, the eye is always drawn upward toward heaven.
In these images, you can see the story of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Prophets, the story of Christ, and more. For his part, Saint Louis’s own story finds its way into the stained glass. You can see his coronation and his delivery of the relics to the chapel itself.
With so much stained glass, there is also an intimate interaction with the placement of the sun. Depending on the season and time of day, as well as the weather, the experience is different. No matter how frequently you go, you’ll see this monument in an entirely new light. That’s why, despite having visited so many times in my life, I’m always excited to take tours to Sainte-Chapelle!
Because there are so many scenes to take in through the gorgeous reds, blues, and purples of the stained glass, it feels like the spectacle is truly infinite. You will look and look until your neck hurts!
How Sainte-Chapelle was built?
This miracle of medieval architecture is an engineering marvel, one that experts still study today. It brought together many of the methods common at the time, but it pushed them to their absolute limits.
When you take away the gorgeous stained glass, you are left with a series of shockingly thin stone columns between the windows. These are really just oversized mullions, and they seem like they could never hold up this massive building. This is because architects placed all of the buttressing on the outside of the chapel, allowing for the effect of weightlessness on the inside and handsome intricacy on the outside.
The ground floor’s ceilings are held up using crossed pointed vaults, and on the second floor, the ceilings are made up of four-part ribbed groin vaults. These give us that famous Gothic feeling — with the structures that hold up the building being exposed. It presents dimension and character to the entire structure.
Every conceivable surface is covered with painted sculptures. This is a true feast for the eyes, which are never allowed to rest on blank space.
Why Louis IX built Sainte-Chapelle?
It is clear that King Louis IX of France (later canonized by the Catholic Church to become Saint Louis) was devoutly religious. But building such an impeccable chapel with so many important relics came with other, more worldly, benefits.
Most importantly, the patronage he showed the artists and artisans that created the chapel helped propel him to the forefront of Western Christianity. He was seen as the leading king of Christendom, which made him much more powerful across the European continent.
It is yet another example of the power of art. By encouraging the greatest architects and artists of his day, Louis IX helped to consolidate his power and appear as the most important king in all the land.
The times that Sainte-Chapelle was almost destroyed !
After construction, there were some modifications to the chapel itself in the following centuries, but a real crisis fell on it during the French Revolution.
Because Sainte-Chapelle was a religious building created for a monarch, it became the perfect symbol for everything the new Republic wished to clear away from France. For that reason, many of its sculptures were vandalized, and the building was used as a granary. Even some of the stained glass illustrations were removed.
The relics were also taken and disseminated. The ornate reliquary box created for these was melted down for its metal.
But luckily, the story of Sainte-Chapelle was not over. It experienced a revival of appreciation in the 19th century, and renovations began in 1840. Over almost three decades, original drawings were consulted and faithfully followed to restore the chapel.
In World War II, fearing destruction from fighting, the stained glass was taken down and placed into hiding. It was put back up after the war, but given the extreme complexity, there are now a few continuity errors in the stained glass.
In the 21st century, millions of euros have been spent to clean the stained glass and return it to its former glory. When you visit today, it is almost identical to the way it would have been in the 13th century.
Prepare your Visit to Sainte-Chapelle
What is the best time to see Sainte-Chapelle?
You will likely want your first visit to Sainte-Chapelle to be sometime during the morning or evening, as the light will come in at an angle through the stained glass, presenting some of the most dramatic displays.
That being said, there really is no bad time to visit. Each hour has its own special charm.
Sainte-Chapelle Opening hours are seasonal:
October 1 to March 31: 9 am — 5 pm
April 1 to September 30: 9 am — 7 pm
Closed on May 1, December 25, January 1 for Christian and national holidays in France
The last entries are allowed in 40 minutes before the monument closes.
Line Length and Waiting Times
If you come without a ticket or a licensed guide, you need to be prepared to wait. Lines can last anywhere from 20 minutes up to 40.
While it is certainly worth the wait, coming with a reserved ticket and a guide makes the experience much more fun!
Is Sainte-Chapelle church free to enter?
The tickets for Sainte-Chapelle are €11.50. When you buy your ticket, you will also make a reservation with a specific date and time.
Tickets are free for:
Children under 18 years old (except for student groups)
People 18 to 25 (if they have an EU or EEA residence permit)
Disabled people and their aides
If you’d like to also visit the Conciergerie, a Gothic palace only 100 meters from the chapel, the combined ticket price is only €18.50.
Is there a dress code at Sainte-Chapelle?
There is no enforced dress code at the chapel. However, due to the reverence many visitors have for the site, people will likely feel most comfortable if they dress modestly, though they don’t need to dress formally.
See Sainte-Chapelle with a Tour Guide
On your next trip to Paris, you can’t miss Sainte-Chapelle. It is not only an important monument in Paris, it is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world.
When you arrive with a tour guide, there is no waiting in line. And you have an expert by your side to tell you all about the scenes in the stained glass, the meaning behind the architectural details, and the rich history that shines everywhere you look.
Contact me to schedule your tour of Sainte-Chapelle!