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Upper Chapel Mural

Presiding over all, below the great rose window, is this mural of Christ in Majesty with adoring angels, blessing the people.

La Saint-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) at 4 Boulevard du Palais, Paris, on the Ile de la Cité, is an important medieval church restored by several architects headed by Félix Duban (1798-1870), with Jean Baptiste Lassus (1807-57) being appointed as the Premier inspecteur early on, and Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79) joining the team later as Sous-inspecteur (see Bressani 132; however, since Lassus died in 1857, the project must have been completed under Viollet-le-Duc's auspices, and this would have included the period of the interior decoration).

The tall encircling stained glass windows of the Upper Chapel of this unusual two-storey church take all the attention. But the other decorative elements here, in both the Lower and Upper Chapels, are also important. It is the whole rich ambience, with its vision and craftsmanship, that gives us a source for the highly decorated churches and chapels of the Gothic Revival in Britain, particularly in key examples such as A. W. N. Pugin's St Giles', Cheadle with its amazing interior.

Lower Chapel

La Sainte-Chapelle, Lower Chapel columns La Sainte-Chapelle, Lower Chapel ceiling

The Lower Chapel was for the royal staff and for more general parish use, and was accordingly the less magnificently decorated, but it is still superb in impact and detail. Its slender columns are painted with fleurs de lys on a blue background, and its sturdier ones with castles on a red background, the latter in homage to King Louis XI's mother, who was Blanche of Castile. Carved and gilded capitals give way to equally finely decorated ribbing, with the painted initial "L" repeated between more fleurs de lys on a red background. Even the tie-braces are ornate. The ceiling above is of blue, spangled by fleurs de lys as if by stars. Around the walls are arcades with trefoils at the top, twelve with medallions within, each of these featuring one of the twelve apostles. Above these are the smaller stained-glass windows of this lower storey.

Upper Chapel

Smaller mural Arcaded wall Arcaded wall with more embellishd medallion

Left to right: (a) Bible scenes to the south of the mural of Christ in Majesty, including Abel offering a lamb, and Abraham's preparation to sacrifice Isaac (see Guilhermy 40). A statue of one of the apostles is seen on the left. (b) and (c) Arcaded wall with embellished medallions of saints.

Reliquary platform and canopy Arched tribune with angels View from the side of the platform

Views of the reliquary platform and canopy at the eastern end, with many decorative enrichments, including carved angels on the platform arch, the ones at the apex (see middle picture) holding a crown of thorns, relating to one of the relics.

Columns Arcade window Tiled flooring

Left to right: (a) Highly decorated and co-ordinated columns between the bays (the central one supports an apostle). (b) A small stained glass window in an arcade decorated with castles, this part being dedicated to the King's mother, Blanche of Castile. (c) Floor tiling, echoing the colours (red and blue as well as black, green and white) and foliate motifs found elsewhere in the chapel.

The Upper Chapel, since it was to house the reliquary for which the chapel was built, and was to be used by the king, his family and those closest to him, was more richly decorated. It was clearly intended to reflect and reinforce the divine power of the monarchy, as well as to return praise to God (see also "La Sainte-Chapelle: History"). Unfortunately, this was fully recognised at the time of the French Revolution, and the chapel suffered accordingly.

Around the walls stand some of the original full-size painted statues of the apostles on pedestals between each of the bays, and here the medallions in the arcades are studded with precious stones. Elegantly painted "drapery" ensures that every inch is enriched with colour and gilding. The roof is blue as in the Lower Chapel, but this time the pattern really is of stars, rather than fleurs de lys. The canopy of the reliquary itself is painted in the same way (see picture below right). Although the current phase of restoration work is still proceeding here, the whole impression is completely dazzling.

Canopy for reliquary

Related Material


Bressani, Martin. Architecture and the Historical Imagination: Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, 1814-1879. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014.

Guilhermy, Ferdinand, Baron de. Sainte-Chapelle. Paris à La Sainte-Chapelle, 1899. Internet Archive. Contributed by the University of Michigan. Web. 4 December 2014.

"La Saint-Chapelle: History" Architecture Religieuse en Occident. Web. 4 December 2014.

Last modified 4 December 2014