The Sainte Chapelle is one of the finest specimens of florid Gothic architecture in the world. It was erected by St. Louis in 1248, and set apart for the reception of relics bought of the emperor of Constantinople. The Chapelle consists of an upper and a lower chapel—the upper communicating with the old palace of the ancient kings of France. It was formerly appropriated to the king and court. The lower chapel opens into the lower courts of the palace, and was appropriated to the use of the common people in and around the palace. The interior has of late undergone extensive repairs, and it is now thoroughly restored.
The entrance is unpleasant, for it is very narrow—so much so that a good view of the front cannot be had. It has a portico of three Gothic arches with intersecting buttresses, and in connection with lateral buttresses there are two spiral towers with spiral stair-cases. Between the towers there is a splendid circular window, which was constructed by Charles VIII. The spires of the church are octagonal, and are adorned with mouldings and traceries, and also at about half-height with a crown of thorns. The different sides of the Chapelle are in the same style—with buttresses between the windows, gables surmounting these, and a fine open parapet crowning all. The roof is sloping, and the height is over a hundred feet. The spire measures, from the vaulting, seventy feet. We entered by a stair-case the upper chapel, and an exquisite view presented itself. A single apartment, a half-circular chair, with fine, large windows, detached columns with bases and capitals, and fine groining—these all strike the eye of the visitor as he crosses the threshold. The whole is gorgeously painted and interspersed with fleur de lis. In the nave there is a carved wooden stair-case of the thirteenth century. The windows are filled with stained glass of 1248, which has escaped destruction during two great revolutions.
Near the altar there is a side chapel, to which access is had from below. Here Louis XI. used to come, amid the choicest relics, and say his prayers. Some of the relics are still preserved, and consist of a crown of thorns, a piece of the cross upon which Christ was crucified, and many antique gems. The Chapelle and the relics cost Louis two millions eight hundred thousand francs—the relics alone costing an enormous amount.
There was a richly endowed chapter in connection with the Chapelle and what is a little singular, the head of it became renowned for his litigous disposition. The poet Boileau, in Lutrin, satirized this character—and was, after death, buried in the lower chapel.
At the time of the great revolution, this ancient and beautiful building escaped destruction by its conversion by the government into courts of justice. The internal decorations were, however, many of them destroyed. The church, as it exists now, in a state of complete restoration, is one of the finest church interiors in Paris, and the best specimen of its peculiar kind of architecture in the world.
Adapted from "Paris, with Pen and Pencil", by David W. Bartlett (available at Project Gutenberg)
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