Sunday, February 19, 2012
With our weekend trip coming to a close, we had largely by this point accomplished much of what we’d hoped to in the weekend’s time. We had, at this juncture, just one more site we wanted to visit before heading back to the airport that afternoon. Off we went once more to the Île de la Cité, home of “Our Lady of Paris” (Notre Dame), for a peek at the somewhat less touted (though spectacular in its own right) La Sainte-Chappelle
La Sainte-Chappelle (The Holy Chapel) is an incredible structure inconspicuously tucked away amidst the buildings of the Palais de Justice, built on the site of the former royal palace of Saint Louis. Only a street or two away from Notre Dame, naturally this particular church rarely captures the typical traveller’s notice on the island, though is well worth both the wait and the fee to enter should you happen to make a visit to Paris.
The chapel is an exquisite piece of architecture, some 764 years old, and in my opinion, between Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur, wins the prize for possessing the most interesting history. After waiting outside in a line for what might have easily been 30 minutes to an hour, Jason and I entered the chapel expecting it to look something like this:
Instead, the room we entered looked like this:
Dark and comparatively cramped, it was in no way less breathtaking, simply unexpected. From floor to exquisitely and artfully crafted ceiling this smaller chamber was a riot of color and patterns with small bits of stained glass providing the majority of the light. At the end of a short hall was a small altar area roped off that held a number of religious sculptures. While impressed by its beauty, Jason and I were still somewhat baffled by the difference between the image we expected to greet us and the one that did. It was not until we turned to leave that we noticed a tiny hole in the back wall. Here a narrow, spiral staircase led upward to a second level more resembling our expectations.
There is no level of preparation by way of photo for what you see when you arrive in the main chapel. The room is a vast cavern of color and light, stunning and opulently reverential as every single wall is dominated with soaring stained glass windows. I am truely grateful we waited until our last day in Paris to visit La Sainte-Chappelle since it was our sunniest day and therefore showcased the glass as it would best be seen. Benches line either side of the chapel for people to sit and admire the windows, reading them with the assistance of an informational sheet that explains each.
A little bit of history:
La Sainte-Chappelle was built in the mid 13th century to house King Louis IX’s (later sainted by the Catholic Church) relics of the Passion of Christ including the crown of thorns, one of the most significant relics of medieval Christendom, a piece of the original cross, the image of Edessa, and some thirty other items.
The soaring stained glass windows (currently undergoing heavy restoration) are amongst the most famous features of the chapel and are some of the finest samples in the world. Fifteen enormous windows line the walls with a massive rose window dominating the western wall above what appears to be a giant door.
Each window features a specific tale from the bible. The three in the eastern end of the chapel (behind the giant altar) feature the stories of Christ’s infancy (left), The Passion (center), and the Life of John the Evangelist (right). The windows then cycle around the room starting at the western end of the north wall with the Book of Genesis and tales of the Old Testament, then move clockwise around the room covering scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings, with the final windows on the western end of the south wall showing scenes of the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis.
The Rose window on the western wall, added in 1490, depicts St. John’s vision of the Apocalypse.
Notre Dame Part 2
Leaving La Sainte-Chappelle with some time and sunlight left to us, we returned a couple of blocks over to Notre Dame admiring more of the outer structure of the building which we missed on our first pass on Friday. This included a lovely courtyard in the back and a view of the building from behind just as gorgeous and interesting as the front (Jason has these pictures because while it was sunny it was freaking cold this day).
We wandered around and took a number of pictures before fleeing into the cozy sanctum of a nearby cafe for a quick, warm lunch.
It was here that I was treated to what I would place as my best meal in Paris which included a large, delicious bowl of French Onion soup, a basket of warm baguette, and a goblet of hot, mulled wine. I was so full and comfortable after this simple meal that all I wanted to do was nap and as loathing the idea of going back out into the blustery cold again.
Jason seemed to be of similar sentiments, and instead of lingering or wandering about Paris further we decided then to head back to the hotel, collect our things, and make our way (early) to the airport. It was about 3:00pm at this time and our flight wasn’t until 9:45 or so, but we had a rather long journey and preferred to just get settled inside somewhere.
Homeward Bound…or not
After an hour train ride back to Charles de Gaulle airport, Jason began pulling out our papers and tickets for our return flight home. One stop away he realized with dread that he had booked our return tickets for the wrong day so we were effectively 30 hours early for our flight back home.
After scrambling to try to find a flight (or train ride) home that night and coming up with not a single option cheaper than £500/person, we opted instead to stay a night in the luxury hotel attached to the airport. Even though I ruined Jason’s hopes of a midnight run of the airport with visions of riding about on luggage carousels and racing the baggage carts around the empty halls by coming down with a sudden and aggressive Parisian ailment (a flu-like head cold mainly…I’m sure the rude waiter that morning must have spit in my “Chocolat”), we settled for a nice, leisurely dinner and then fell asleep to a movie in our posh hotel room.
And despite spending the next day curled up like a sniffly cat on an airport chair, all in all, I’d say it was actually a really lovely end to an utterly lovely weekend.