If you’re short on time, skip the Notre Dame and head to Sainte-Chapelle which happens to be just a short walk away.


At the very centre of Paris on the Île de la Cité is Sainte-Chapelle. The Île de la Cité is one of two remaining natural islands in the Seine within the city of Paris, the other being the Île Saint-Louis. It’s no Notre Dame or St. Peter’s Basilica in terms of size or impact. But  it is a sumptuous, intimate and elegant chapel.  The structure is a gem of Gothic style architecture and a showcase of medieval engineering. Built between 1241-1248 it was commissioned by the King of France, Louis IV who later became St. Louis. Meant as personal chapel for the King and his family, it was also built to house the relics from Christ’s Passion, among them the Crown of Thorns which he acquired from the emperor of Constantinople in 1239.

But don’t go looking for the Crown of Thorns or other relics at the Sante-Chapelle, they were taken during the French Revolution and today they are said to be housed in the Notre Dame. Instead, enjoy the medieval IMAX experience that are the 15 stained glass windows arranged across 15 windows, each measuring 15 meters high.

Oops I’m getting ahead of myself. First, know that the chapel is housed inside the compound of the Palace of Justice, and to visit it you must pass through the court security checks.

The Lower Chapel

When you enter Sainte-Chapelle, your first stop will be the chapelle basse, or lower chapel, which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and used as a place of worship by members of the court. Clusters of slender columns support the arches of the vaulted ceiling, which is only about 7 meters or 23 feet high.

A statue of St. Louis in The Lower Chapel

A low vaulted ceiling painted to resemble a starry sky and arched columns decorated with medallions that represent the Apostles. The columns are also adorned with French fleur-de-lis. Guests to the Lower Chapel can also visit tombstones representing some of the chapel’s former reverends.

This is also where the gift shop located and they have a good selection of souvenirs.

12th century details

The Upper Chapel

A cramped spiral staircase leads to The Upper Chapel. The dimness of The Lower Chapel is the exact opposite to the light of The Upper Chapel. Be prepared to catch your breath, from the walk up as well as from the beautiful, otherworldly light created by the stained glass windows that welcomes you as you enter The Upper Chapel. The other thing that will surprise you is the height of the ceiling. It is nearly twice the height of an IMAX screen.

SC2 window
Just 1 of 15 windows. The sheer height is astounding!

And although the space is only 600 square meters and you are sharing it with dozens of other tourists, the spiritual experience is yours alone.

Find your own space and own the experience despite the other tourists

This is where Louis IV worshipped with his family when he wasn’t occupied with the Crusades! Such exciting times.

Find a place to sit down as you take in the stained glass panes that depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.

Slender elegant columns

Two-thirds of the stained glass are thirteenth century originals. The western rose window, however, was crafted in the fifteenth century. The windows were removed briefly during the early nineteenth century and again during World War II to protect them from harm. They were painstakingly reinstalled after the war.

The Rose Window

Take your time to relish the sheer ecstasy of light created by the elegant and slender wrap around stained glass windows. Sit for as long as you like.

Don’t be discouraged by the long queue, this is one experience you shouldn’t miss. You might want to check concert schedules at the Sainte-Chapelle.

For ticket prices and opening and closing hours check www.sainte-chapelle.fr                          8 Boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, France