The past couple days have been pretty cool. Yesterday I went to Notre Dame with my architecture class, and this morning I visited Sainte Chapelle, also for class. It’s awesome that we get to go see the things we are learning about in class in person. I think I liked Sainte Chapelle better than Notre Dame because the original detail is still intact with all the painting and original glass. It makes the place more special.
I can see how common people back in the day were awestruck when they went to church. Their lives were so dismal and colorless, and when they attended church they were surrounded by color, music, and light; we take these things for granted today.
Built in just six years between 1242 and 1248 the Sainte Chapelle is an ornate private chapel built by Louis IX to house the relics of the Passion of the Christ. Consisting of two chapels, one on top of the other, the Sainte Chapelle stands as a excellent example of the ideals of the Gothic style. The lower chapel was used for worship by the king’s staff and the upper chapel was used to house the relics and was used only by the king, his family and close friends.
Upon entering the Sainte Chapelle through the door of the lower chapel, the worshiper is emerged in color and some light from small stained-glass windows. The entire chapel – upper and lower – is painted on the inside in royal colors such as blue, red, gold, white and green.
The door to the lower chapel depicts the virgin’s crowning by her son in the tympanum, and the virgin is standing with her child in the mullion; it is located on the western side of the chapel. This entryway is similar to the left entry of Notre Dame except the door at Sainte Chapelle is much more basic.
Also on the western side of the church, the main door (the door the king would enter) depicts Judgment Day in a similar style to Notre Dame and Saint Denis. Gothic style was created in order to allow as much light into the churches as possible, and this was accomplished in Sainte Chapelle. The chapel’s 15 stained-glass windows allow light to flood into the building, telling the story of mankind from Genesis to Christ’s recollection.
Also, all the arches in the church are pointed rather than rounded, which is a cornerstone of Gothic architecture, along with the rib vaulting in the ceiling. The capitals of the columns supporting the vaulting are done with vegetal detailing, much like Notre Dame and unlike St. Denis. The large rose window on the western side of the church also allows light to flood into the chapel; it depicts the Apocalypse.
The entire chapel seems to be one giant choir and one giant clerestory. The eastern side of the church (the holiest side, where the relics were kept) has an ornately decorated private alter. Lining the pointed archway of the alter are angels carrying representations of the relics. Above, gold stars on a blue background represent the heavens looking down upon the worshipers.
Outside, the chapel is supported by a system of buttresses; the chapel does not incorporate any flying buttresses like Saint Denis and Notre Dame. Because the chapel was built in six years it did not have to be built during a transition in style; it is a high Gothic chapel with no transitional features like its contemporaries. The Sainte Chapelle is a chapel fit for a king.
Originally dedicated to St. Stephen, Notre Dame is now the cathedral of France, the seat of the church in France. It holds the relics of the Passion of the Christ, originally housed in the Sainte Chapelle. Not much of the original 13th-century church is still intact. The upper sections of the three doors are, but the bottom sections are 19th-century, done by Viollet le Duc. The gallery of the kings is also 19th century (during the Revolution citizens thought they depicted the French kings, and they were all decapitated and torn down; however the kings are really the kings of Jerusalem).
Notre Dame, meaning “our lady,” is dedicated to the virgin Mary. Outside, the church is supported by an intricate system of buttresses. The flying buttresses also act as the gutter system for the church; water is spit from the mouths of gargoyles on the outside of each buttress.
There are three doors on the western side of the church – the door on the far right being the oldest (it was constructed even before Notre Dame was commissioned). The door on the far right is dedicated to the Virgin; the tympanum depicts Mary being crowned in heaven by her son; underneath her funeral is depicted; and underneath her funeral 3 prophets and 3 kings are depicted contemplating her life.
On the lower part of the door Mary is shown holding her baby in the center mullion, standing above the story of Adam and Eve (the church is supposed to represent the second chance given to us by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus). On the left jamb St. Dennis is shown holding his severed head next to two angels and Constantine; and on the right jamb the patron saint of Paris, Genvieve, with Jesus. The center door depicts Judgment Day, just like Sainte Chapelle and Saint Denis. It is really intricate and shows the detail associated with Gothic-style churches.
In the uppermost part of the tympanum, Jesus is on his throne surrounded by angels holding the Passion, and to his right is John (representing the Old Testament), and to his left is Mary (representing the New Testament). Beneath them Michael is weighing souls standing next to the devil, who takes the damned to hell on the right side of the door above the foolish virgins. If they are deemed worthy, they are shown smiling with crowns on the left side of the door above the wise virgins.