Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Day 1: Sainte-Chapelle

Day 1 of a week in Paris - Sunday

The 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.

photo courtesy Wiki Commons

photo courtesy Donica Detamore


shoreacres said...

Un petit peu cafe creme, s'il vous plait, et un croissant, peut-etre?

En 1977, je n'aime pas la Paris, mais votre (hmmmm... "story") est tres bien!

That's about it for so early in the morning. It's obvious to me that my distaste for Paris was a function of youth and inexperience. At the time, I even spoke enough French that I should have been able to get along. Now, your posts are making me regret my rejection of the City of Lights, and mourn that I probably never will have the chance to go again. But, the good news is that I have your beautiful blog to show me what I missed!

If only that attendant in the restroom at the Gare du Nord hadn't screamed at me....

Ruth said...

Oh, Linda, it's a chilling experience to be so demeaned, especially by a "host" in a foreign country. If only they knew the damage they do. It's really quite understandable that you would feel that way.

I have had a few experiences like that in Paris, but somehow they were overshadowed by the good ones. And I did not have any in college like that - except in Bruges, Belgium, which always then colored that country for me.

I have learned that if I stand up for myself when a French waiter, taxi driver or proprietor scoffs at me, if I throw it right back at them in a straightforward manner, they immediately change their tune and treat me with respect. They have their own assumptions about us Americans too, and I try to show them that I'm not an idiot! even if I don't speak French beyond the little niceties.

So glad you also like the café crème.

Dakota Bear said...

I've seen Sainte Chapelle only in the day time. But I thought the all those stained glass windows were breathtaking, especially after making my way up the staircase from the lower chamber.

I've known about the Bertillon ice cream, even suggested people go there, but I haven't been there myself. It is definitely on my list of things to do on my next visit to Paris.

As always thank you for the tour, looking forward to your next post.

CottageGirl said...

I have a bit of catching up from your previous Paris blogs. But I had to comment on the Sainte-Chapelle!

I have never heard of it before, but it must be quite a treasure!

Thanks for taking me to Paris through your eyes.

Donica said...


Sainte-Chapelle will forever bring me memories of you...and blue glass! Both a wonderful memory. This place is so special, thank you for sharing it with me!

Ruth said...

Dakota Bear, you're right, the lower chapel is so dark and dank. The light sweeps you away when you come through that door from the stairway!

I hope you'll enjoy the taste of Berthillon vicariously here next week. :)

Ruth said...

It's hard, CottageGirl, because there are so many churches to see, so many sights, it becomes overwhelming. That's what this blog is about for me, deconstructing it so you can see one thing at a time. Even so, there is just so much I don't write about or know about in each post.

Thank you for your interest!

Ruth said...

Dear Donica, our time in silence in that room was moving. You have seen so many churches in Europe!! More than anyone I know. It's nice to know we share this special one - oh and the Madeleine!

Oliag said...

What serendipity...the Updike poem I mean! When I started reading this post I assumed the poem was written before your trip to Paris...how wonderful that the poet captured your experience!

Now I want to go back to Paris - but my husband always wants to go to Italy...

Anonymous said...

I love Paris SO much! The Pictures are breathtaking, as is the blogger's voice here!

Susan said...

So beautiful, Ruthie, and it becomes so personal when seen through your eyes and words. I was going to say how lucky it was to find that poem by Updike after your trip, but I don't believe in luck. It was meant to be.

Ruth said...

Oliag, I was just stunned when I saw the title of the poem. I often leaf through the new issues of the magazine and look at the poems first, and having just been at the chapel, I sat there and absorbed his words with glee.

Italy is a place I'd like to return to as well, only went a few days in college. Don hasn't been.

Ruth said...

You are so kind, The Things We Carried!

Ruth said...

Dear Susie, I have to break down touring to little personal encounters to make it meaningful.

I don't believe in coincidence either.

Peter said...

I just discovered that you post here ALSO!!

Is there a nicer place for a concert than the Sainte Chapelle?

Ruth said...

Peter, I thought you knew!