Day 1 of a week in Paris - Sunday
Islands: Ile de la Cité - Ile Saint-Louis
- Breakfast: Hotel? (not sure if la patisserie is open Sundays)
- Notre Dame; tour and climb tower
- Place Louis-Lepine - bird and flower market - LAST POST
- Sainte-Chapelle; tour and purchase billets for evening concert - THIS POST
- Lunch: Brasserie de Isle St-Louis -- Look for the stork!
- Walk Isle St-Louis; ice cream at Berthillion; Square Barye
- Supper: Sandwich or omelette?
- Evening concert at Sainte Chapelle - THIS POST
Tucked away inside the Palais de Justice is the chapel King Louis IX - the one and only French king to be canonized, St. Louis - built in less than five years, opened in 1248 to house the relics he'd bought, among them Christ's crown of thorns (now in the Notre-Dame and exhibited only on Good Friday - hurry and book a ticket to be there Good Friday, April 10). It is said that what he paid for the relics was equal to the cost of the chapel. The relics were kept in the upper chapel, where the royal family worshipped. The chapel was built without any buttress support, at 67 feet, a big accomplishment at the time.
There is no getting around it. You must visit the Sainte-Chapelle twice - once in the day to see the 1,500 square yards of stained glass windows, with nearly 1,200 scenes - two thirds of them original - lit by sunlight, and again in the evening for one of the small concerts. I like to do both visits in one day, first touring and studying the biblical story told in the windows, then picking up tickets for the evening concert, and finally returning in the evening after a stroll down Isle St-Louis next door, a light omelette and braised potatoes for supper at one of the brasseries, and an ice cream at Berthillon. Or, if you're of the European inclination, eat supper after the concert.
As you can see in the photo below of the upper chapel, the tops of the vast windows are nearly impossible to capture in detail, so bring your opera glasses. One priest apparently came every day all day for two weeks to study each pane of Bible stories. Some of the windows tell the history of the chapel, which is lined with wooden chairs for sitting and viewing the windows and the tourists. Invariably there are uniformed schoolchildren being hushed by their teachers as they shuffle along looking awed by the high color around them.
When your eyes tire from such intense study, leave the chapel, go downstairs and find the ticket office where you can purchase concert tickets for this evening.
Once you've experienced the magnificent colors of the stained glass in the day, coming back for an evening concert feels like a rare privilege. Only a small number of people (100?) can sit in the wooden chairs, now lined up in rows facing a temporary staging area where a handful of string musicians make up a chamber orchestra playing Vivaldi or Brahms.
A few weeks after Don and I returned from Paris in 2003 where we spent a week celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, I was thumbing through the June 30 New Yorker and was stunned and pleased to find John Updike's poem, above, which I tore out and slipped into the photo album I'd made for the trip. His feelings there show the power of music in such a setting.
We have one more item on our Day 1 itinerary, which I'll post next week: Berthillon ice cream on our stroll down the Isle St-Louis.