Visiting the stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle

Sainte-Chapelle is an impressive chapel on the île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine where the famous Notre Dame was built on. This impressive church has been built close to the Palais de Justice (check out the gold decorated gate of this building) and isn't very impressive at first sight. But wait until you enter! The colorful stained glass windows of Sainte Chapelle are, in my opinion, one of the most impressive sights in Paris!


sainte chapelle outside

A little bit of history

In 1242, Louis IX started the construction of the Sainte-Chapelle. Only six years later (1248) this structure was completed. A few years earlier, Louis IX had purchased some very valuable relics (including the crown of thorns of Jesus Christ), and now he wished to find a suitable place to exhibit these valuable objects.

All this splendor was intended to prove to the rest of Europe that France was a very important and powerful nation. Louis IX even wanted Paris, after Rome, to become the most important city of Christianity.

During the French Revolution, many centuries later, this chapel was seen as a sign of royal and divine power. Hundreds of revolutionaries stormed the chapel and most of the relics and the interior of the chapel was destroyed. As if by miracle, the beautiful stained glass glass remained unharmed!

stained glass windows sainte chapelle

One of the twelve apostle figurines in this beautiful church.

What is there to see?

The outside

The chapel is rather hidden, and from the outside you don’t actually see it immediately. That’s because this church is actually located in the courtyard of the Palais de Justice (the French courthouse). Amidst gigantic legal buildings lies the beautiful chapel, but at first glance you probably wouldn’t think that it’s really worth a visit.

To get to this courtyard you have to enter through one of the entrances of the courthouse, where you are strictly controlled for weapons and such.
There are indeed decorations on the outside, but they are very sober compared to the inside. The exterior has many typical features of Rayonnant architecture, including the clear distinction between the lower and upper chapel.

What also immediately struck me was that the stained glass windows aren’t visible from the outside. They look almost completely black!

outside sainte chapelle

The outside of Sainte-Chapelle looks quite ordinary. Especially when you compare it with the interior!

First floor: the lower chapel

After you’ve shown your tickets (or purchased them) you end up in the colorful lower chapel of Sainte Chapelle.
Here you can also see some impressive stained glass windows, but here they are rather modest. The beautiful wall and ceiling paintings are beautiful as well! On the vaulted ceiling that beautifully flows into the columns, you see French fleur-de-lis and a beautiful starry sky. On the right side of this lower chapel you can also see some gravestones of clergymen. This floor is completely dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

sainte chapelle first floor

The first floor. Sober compared to the higher chapel, but still breathtakingly beautiful.

sainte chapelle visit first floor lower chapel

When you visit Sainte-Chapelle, you’ll first see this impressive color palette of the lower chapel.

Second floor: the upper chapel

From the lower chapel you take the spiral staircase to the second floor. Once you arrive, I guarantee you that your jaw will drop open. Fifteen gigantic windows create a light and color spectacle like you’ve never seen before! This masterpiece was only accessible to the king, his family and his friends during the Middle Ages. So you’re quite fortunate that you can look at this masterpiece nowadays!

You can see dozens of biblical stories on these beautiful stained glass windows.
Fragments can be seen from the New Testament and the Old Testament. You can actually read the windows as a story in the direction of the clock. On the last window (on the right) you see a scene where the relics of Jesus Christ are rediscovered, the miracles they did and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis IX (to this chapel).

If you would like some more clarification, I recommend that you consult the pamphlets at the back of the chapel. They tell you everything you need to know about these biblical stories.

sainte chapelle second floor stained glass windows

The second floor of Sainte-Chapelle. Divinely beautiful is the least you can say about this place…

paris sainte chapelle rose second level upper chapel

The ‘rose’ at the back of the chapel.

The Concierge

Once you have left the chapel and the courtyard, you can also visit the Concierge or the Conciergerie. These spaces are part of Sainte-Chapelle, but you won’t actually see beautiful stained glass windows here anymore. These vaults and rooms do tell a lot about the French Revolution.

The Conciergerie is the only thing that remains of the once powerful Palais de la Cité. This is the place where all powerful French kings lived and reigned, until Charles V appointed the Louvre as the official residence of the king. As a result, the Concierge was set up as the highest court in France and a (terrible) prison was made out of the other rooms. During the French Revolution, this building was mainly used as a base for the terror of Robespierre. At that time, thousands of people were imprisoned here, including Marie Antoinette.

concierge paris sainte chapelle

The vaults of the Concierge, a rather impressive prison during the French Revolution.

conciergerie paris sainte chapelle

The guards of the Conciergerie must have sat here once, not too long ago.

Sainte Chapelle tickets

If there is one church that you have to see in Paris, it is Sainte Chapelle. The beautiful stained glass windows made me dream away!
A ticket for Sainte Chapelle costs €10 per person. If you also want to visit the Concierge, you can buy a combined ticket for €15.

If you plan to visit several places of interest, I recommend buying a Paris Museum pass. For €53 you can visit more than 60 museums, churches and places of interest (including Sainte Chapelle, the Notre-Dame tower, the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Arc de Triomphe, …) during two days. Do you need more time? Then you can buy a museum pass for 4 or 6 days as well.

You can also visit Sainte Chapelle for free!

Anyone with a European identity card who is -26 years old can enter the chapel free of charge, and from Monday to Friday there is free admission between 1:00 pm and 2:15 pm. However, long queues are to be expected.

Sainte Chapelle is open daily with the exception of 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.


6 Fun facts about Sainte Chapelle in Paris

  1. The Sainte Chapelle is an impressive structure! It is 36 meters (118 ft) long, 17 meters (56 ft) wide and 42.5 meters (135.5 ft) high. On the chapel, there’s also a razor-sharp tower of 33 meters (108 ft). This is indeed a replica, because the original tower was completely destroyed during the revolution. Together, the chapel is more than 75 meters (246 ft) high!
  2. The twelve statues that you see on the second floor are actually the twelve apostles. Six of them are replicas because they were damaged in the course of time. The original sculptures are in the Musée du Moyen Age. Also in Paris.
  3. The second floor has sixteen gigantic stained glass windows from the thirteenth century. The round window (the ‘rose’) was added in the fifteenth century. Many of these windows were severely damaged during the French Revolution, but in the nineteenth century they were restored to their original glory.
  4. In total you see no less than 618 square meters (2027 square feet) of glass! Incidentally, 1130 biblical figures are depicted on that gigantic surface.
  5. Every year about 900,000 visitors come to Sainte Chapelle. In 1940 Adolf Hitler also visited this chapel.
  6. Originally three of the most sacred relics of Christianity were to be found here (the chapel was in fact entirely made for this reason!). The crown of thorns of Jesus, one of the nails that was used to crucify him and a piece of the Byzantine cross. Now you can find these objects in the Notre-Dame. Louis IX bought these relics for 135,000 livres, and at that time it was almost four times more than what he spent on the building of the chapel itself!
sainte chapelle stained glass windows

Tickets for this chapel are more than worth their money! I hardly ever saw anything more beautiful than the stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle!

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