on March 19, 2006
Want to find God? This is the place to do it. With a cozily dark lower chapel and a breathtaking upper chapel, St. Chapelle is the place to go to become a believer in the power of the church, or at least in the power of churches.First off, it's not all that easy to find. If you're expecting it to be out in the open and obvious from wherever you look like Notre Dame, you're out of luck. It's tucked away in the Palais de Justice on Ile de la Cite (Metro stop is Cite). Find Boulevard du Palais (turns into Blvd. St. Michel when it crosses over the river). On this street is the Palais de Justice. St. Chapelle is inside the Palais; there is a door on Blvd de Palais (on the right if you're facing Place St. Michel). You can just see St. Chapelle over the roof if you're looking from the right place.You'll have to have your bag searched and go through a metal detector on your way in. It's a government building, after all. Once you get into the courtyard, you can actually see the cathedral. The most impressive part is inside, don't worry. Discounted ticket if you're under 25.St. Chapelle was built in the 1240s by Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the true cross, recently acquired in Constantinople (not Istanbul... sing if you know the words!); the Crown was moved to Notre Dame, where is it trotted out every Friday to see its adoring fans during Lent or something. You enter into the lower cathedral, a charming little space with groin vaults and fleur de lis painted on the dark blue ceiling. It is only slightly ruined by the souvenir stand in the middle. It is very ruined, however, by the yappy tourists making flattened pennies and calling out to each other about which postcards they should buy. Sadly they're upstairs too. Get used to them.So the lower chapel is nice and all, but you start wondering what the big deal is, until you realize people are going upstairs, via spiral staircases tucked into the corners on either side of the entrance.The stair deposits you in a corner of the upper chapel, looking up into a cocoon of pure, colorful light. Now I don't know about you, but the first thing I said upon entering was "God," so obviously it worked. Organized religion 1, Heathens 0.The upper chapel is almost entirely stained glass in shades of blue, purple, and red. The columns are clustered and appear to be much smaller than they actually are, making the walls look wafer thin and the ceiling seem like it's floating above. Statues of the apostles look down from the walls. 600 square meters of stained glass provide a visual form of the bible, each window representing a book, from Genesis on through the History of Relics.Find it. Visit it. It's worth it. I promise.
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