Great Churches of the World: Sainte-Chapelle

sainte chapelle stained glass windows

From the 10th century to the 16th century, the most popular form of pictorial art were stained glass windows. Stained glass from this time period typically featured brilliant red, blue, and green hues, involved techniques such as flashing, and the application of paint and silver stain was incredibly common. Now this style has been mostly abandoned by modern artisans, but the windows created from this time period continue to remain awe-inspiring works of art, attracting tourists and connoisseurs from around the world.

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If you were to head out in search of the world’s largest collections of medieval stained glass, you would find yourself inevitably travelling in the direction of the Ile de la Cite, otherwise known as the heart of Paris, France. In fact, one of the most extensive collections of 13th century stained glass is housed in none other than the ever famous royal chapel, the Sainte-Chapelle.

The Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace. Its construction was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion relics, which included the Crown of Thorns and the Image of Edessa. After its completion in 1248, the chapel was used as a place of worship, but also continually played a role in the political and cultural aspirations of the king and his successors.

The building is classified as belonging to a style of Gothic architecture known as Rayonnant, which emphasizes vertical height as well as a sense of weightlessness. Every inch of the walls were richly colored and decorated, that is, what was not covered by the fifteen immense stained glass windows and rose window. In fact, the stained glass consumes the walls almost entirely, are undoubtedly the most famous features of the chapel.

sainte chapelle stained glass

The windows in the Eastern aspe feature scenes from the New Testament while the windows in the nave are more reminiscent of Old Testament ideals. In fact, the entire series can be seen as the depiction of a narrative. The story begins with scenes from Genesis at the Western bay of the North wall and moves clockwise. The narrative concludes with a series of windows meant to represent scenes from what was then modern day times and display the story of how Christ’s relics were rediscovered and moved to Paris.

sainte chapelle paris

Although much of the Sainte-Chapelle was damaged during the French Revolution and had to be recreated, nearly two thirds of the original windows were preserved. In recent years, a glass layer was applied over the windows to provide them with protection. The chapel has been a national monument since 1862 and continually attracts visitors from across the world.

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