La Sainte Chapelle – A Stained-Glass Wonder on Île de la Cité

La Sainte Chapelle, a jewel of Gothic architecture, is smack dab in the middle of Paris, just steps from Notre Dame Cathedral, yet is hidden behind the massive Palace of Justice complex. From the street, only the tall piercing spiral of the church can be seen.

To get to Sainte Chapelle you must first pass security at the Palais de la Justice, then climb a spiral staircase before entering the magical kingdom created on order of French king Louis IX in the 13th century. Today, visitors don't go to the chapel to see the Crown of Thorns or Louis' other dusty relics, they go to see the glorious stained-glass walls, the vaulted ceiling, and the miracle of medieval engineering.

Tips on Visiting Sainte Chapelle

Tips on Visiting Sainte Chapelle île de la Cité with spire of Sainte Chapelle on the left, towers of Notre Dame center

The chapel is one of the most popular churches in Paris and attracts about 900,000 visitors each year. The lucky ones are ticket holders for the classical music concerts held there. We highly recommend that you become one of them by booking a classical music concert before you leave home. You'll be whisked inside and then watch spellbound as musicians play music by the masters. It also gives you time to admire the lightness and airiness of the church.

This church is also another good reason to get a Paris Pass. With your pass in hand, you see the best of île de la Cité by skipping the lines at La Sainte Chapelle and the nearby Conciergerie, just down the street. And, although it's free to enter Notre Dame Cathedral, you can use your Paris Pass to skip the line at the cathedral's bell towers and climb the stairs of the for stunning views of Paris. Our final tip is to plan to visit Sainte Chapelle on a sunny day when the deep, rich colors of the glass will be absolutely vibrant.

Classical Music at La Sainte-Chapelle

Classical Music at La Sainte-Chapelle

In addition to its ethereal beauty, La Sainte-Chapelle has excellent acoustics and has become our readers' favourite venue for classical music concerts in Paris. It's an amazing experience sitting in this Gothic masterpiece of a church and listening to classical music played by some of the best musicians in France.

There are concerts most evenings during much of the year — although things slow down in the winter months, since La Saint Chapelle is not heated. Here we share with you the most reliable source for classical music tickets.—

A Miracle of Medieval Engineering

A Miracle of Medieval Engineering

800 years before the glass pyramids of the Louvre were built, Gothic engineers and masons built these almost weightless walls of stained glass. It was the first of its kind. No one — not the Greeks, not the Romans, not the Byzantines — had done it before the French Gothic architects of the 13th century.

Although there is some debate, it's generally accepted that the chief architect of La Sainte Chapelle was Pierre de Montreuil (1200 – 1266). He's been immortalized in a statue on the facade of the Hotel de Ville. His idea was to push the boundaries of what the Romans knew about arches. Montreuil made his arch taller and with a point and added vaulting that put the weight of the roof onto a few columns. It's essentially a building of glass. His supporting stone frame is as strong as the frame of a modern steel glass building.

The Story Behind La Sainte-Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle

La Sainte-Chapelle, or The Holy Chapel, is on the island where Paris was founded, built in the former courtyard of the Royal Palace by Louis IX. Unlike many other Paris churches, it was completed in a relatively short period. Building started in 1240 and finished in 1248. Inside, the church appears weightless and airy, and is one of the most amazing examples of Gothic architecture anywhere. The stained glass walls are among the most magnificent in the world.

You might say it all started with the Fourth Crusade. One of the leaders of that crusade, a French nobleman named Baudouin, acquired what he believed was the crown of thorns, a sacred Christian relic. In one of those odd twists of history, Baudouin became Emperor of Constantinople and ended up using the relic as collateral for a loan from Venetian bankers, who were the major moneylenders of the day.

When he couldn't pay up, he appealed to the French king Louis IX (otherwise known as Saint Louis, like in the island). Louis paid off the debt and acquired the crown of thorns for himself. As Louis collected other alleged relics he realized he needed a suitable place to keep and display them, and La Sainte-Chapelle was therefore created.

It was, and still is, a marvel, with tall, thin walls filled with lacy stained glass.

La Sainte-Chapelle sustained considerable damage during the French Revolution. The steeple was torn down and Louis IX's religious relics were removed. The church as we see it today is a faithful restoration completed in 1855.

La Renovation 2008 – 2015

Already one of the most dazzling churches in Paris, La Sainte-Chapelle was made even better during an extensive restoration. If you can imagine this, the entire 6,458 sq ft (600 sq metres) of stained-glass windows and walls were meticulously disassembled, cleaned with lasers, then put back together again. Eight centuries of dirt, grime and pollution were removed during the seven-year project.

Another benefit of the renovation was that much of the connective lead that joins the windows were replaced with a new, almost invisible glue, making the glass even more pronounced. The meticulous renovation was finished just in time to celebrate the 800th anniversary of King Louis IX in 2015.

La Sainte Chapelle Information

    Monday to Friday – 9:30 am to 12:45 pm; 2:15 pm to 6:00 pm
    Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays – 9:30 am to 6:00 pm
    Monday to Friday – 9:00 am to 12.45 pm; 2:15 pm to 5:00 pm
    Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays – 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
    8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001
    Metro – Cité, Line 4

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