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Just a stone’s throw from the famous Notre Dame lies one of the most incredible chapels no one knows about. Hidden in a cramped courtyard of the Palais de Justice, the Sainte-Chapelle is a 13th century secret gem.

This world heritage site has been significantly underrated, and if there is any consolation about the temporary closure of nearby Notre Dame it is the rise in popularity of this architectural treasure, and it absolutely deserves to be seen by more people.

Masterpiece of colour and light

The building has a relatively modest exterior that blends discreetly into the Parisian skyline, but what’s hiding inside is one of the most beautiful Gothic wonders of the medieval world.

Stepping inside reveals a vast array of stained glass windows, intricately depicting 1,113 biblical figures in scenes from the new and old testaments painted in a vibrant kaleidoscope of colour. Combined with gold columns, sculptures and chandeliers it’s an absolutely stunning sight to behold.

This space is a weightless dream of pure colour. Everywhere you look, bright and glittering stained glass filters daylight in the most subtle ways. The glass teems with pictures, but what overwhelms is the sheer ecstasy of light. Tall and elegant windows separated by the slenderest of pillars create a startling effect of total transparency, like standing in a crystal.

Once you’ve picked up your jaw off the floor you can wonder round and take it in piece by piece, like the huge rose window forming what’s lauded as a “wall of light” that completely covers the chapel’s west wall. The story depicted in the window is much darker than the other stained-glass windows, namely because it depicts the Book of Revelation — the last section of the Bible with a prophecy on the end of the current age.

The best time to appreciate the massive kaleidoscope of light in all its radiance would be a bright sunny day, when the sun streams through the glass, illuminating the spirituality of the chapel.

A colourful history

The two-level building was commissioned by King Louis IX, known as Saint Louis for his devotion. It was built between 1242 and 1248, a record time, to house the king’s vast collection of religious relics, including what was believed to be Christ’s crown of thorns, which he had bought from the emperor of Constantinople. Interestingly, the name of the Sainte-Chapelle’s architecture is unknown, but historians believe it was a Frenchman named Pierre de Montreuil.

Along with the Conciergerie next door (where Marie Antoinette was held before her trip to the guillotine), the chapel is one of the few surviving buildings of the original Capetian royal palace on the Ile de la Cité and one of the best-preserved examples of the Rayonnant style of Gothic architecture.

We highly recommend booking tickets online in advance and allow some wait time at the entrance. The chapel is located within the Palace of Justice, so expect thorough security checks.

Sainte-Chapelle is located at 10 Bd du Palais, 75001 Paris. It’s open daily from 9am till 7pm (April 1 –  September 30) and from 9am till 5pm (October 1 – March 31). More information and tickets can be booked here.


Image credits: © Sainte-Chapelle and Travel with Style