Visit Sainte-Chapelle Paris to See the Best Stained-Glass Windows

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by Henk Bekker

in France, N24, Paris

Visit Sainte-Chapelle to see the best stained-glass windows in Paris — buy the cheapest tickets and book essential free time-slot reservations online.

Apse Windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

The small Gothic church of Sainte-Chapelle on the Île de la Cité island in the Seine in the heart of Paris is famous for its magnificent stained-glass windows. Two-thirds of the glass are the originals from the mid-13th century. Buy Sainte-Chapelle tickets online and make essential time-slot reservations if visiting with a Paris Museum Pass. Guided tours of Sainte-Chapelle often include other nearby sights such as the Conciergerie and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

See Sainte-Chapelle during the Paris Olympic Games 2024

It will be possible to see the stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle as usual during the Paris Olympic Games and Paralympics 2024. The only exceptionally closed day is 26 July 2024, the opening ceremony day on which most sights in central Paris will be closed.

Sainte-Chapelle and the Royal Holy Relics in Paris

Sainte-Chapelle Stained Glass Windows

In 1239, the uber-pious and very capable Louis IX, King of France from 1226-1279, bought a collection of relics belonging to the Byzantine Emperor Baudouin II through pawnbrokers in Venice for 135,000 livres tournois, which was about half a year’s income from his estates.

The Crown of Thorns was by far the most important relic in the collection. This reed crown with thorns was supposedly the very one placed on the head of Christ during the Passion and is sometimes also referred to as the Holy Crown. To house the crown, Louis commissioned a large silver shrine and special case that cost another 100,000 livres.

To house this shrine with the crown (and the other relics), Louis ordered the Sainte-Chapelle to be built at his royal palace on an island in the Seine River in the heart of Paris. This Gothic chapel with its magnificent stained-glass windows set him back only a further 40,000 livers — labor was cheap (and forced labor usually gratis to the king).

Louis XI was declared a saint in 1297 — the only French King ever to manage that feat. Sainte-Chapelle would survive the centuries and indignities (including being used as a grain store) to become a major tourist attraction in modern Paris. Only three of Louis’s relics survived the French Revolution — these survivors include the Crown of Thorns, now usually kept in the treasury of the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Sainte-Chapelle Gothic Church in Paris

Sainte-Chapelle in Paris Exterior

Sainte-Chapelle was built in the contemporary Gothic style in only six years between 1242 and 1248. It was partly inspired by the chapel of Charlemagne in Aachen (and in turn inspired the later Kaiserdom choir extension) and follows a similar style as other contemporary Gothic churches in Northern France including the magnificent Amiens Cathedral.

Externally Sainte-Chapell in Paris is around 36 meters (118 ft) long, 17 meters (56 ft) wide, and 42.5 meters (139 ft) high, excluding the (later) spire. Although the floor area is that of a village church, its height rivals contemporary cathedrals.

The basic design followed a fairly simple typical basilica layout with a rectangular main nave and semi-circular apse but that is where simplicity ends for this chapel. The church has two levels: a lower level for palace staff and a magnificent upper level with the famous stained-glass windows for the senior royals and invited guests.

Lower Chapel

Sainte-Chapelle Paris Lower Chapel

The lower chapel with a relatively low ceiling (6.6 m / 22 ft high) and few windows was for worshipping by the regular palace staff. The current decoration was re-imagined during 19th-century restorations, as very limited descriptions of the lower level existed.

The main colorful decorations alternate the blue fleur-de-lys columns for the French royal family with the purple-red castles for Blanche of Castile representing Louis IX’s mother. (She was regent as he was crowned king aged 12.)

None of the glass here is original, as a flood in 1690 destroyed the glass and most of the fittings. However, the 13th-century painting of the Annunciation is considered the oldest wall painting in Paris.

The relative historical unimportance of this area is emphasized by the presence of a gift shop rather than any significant exhibitions. Visitors come to Sainte-Chapelle for the upper level, so go up the stairs.

Upper Chapel

Visit Sainte-Chapelle to see the best stained-glass windows in Paris -- buy the cheapest tickets and book essential free time-slot reservations online.

The monumental Upper Chapel was reserved for the King and his guests. Here are the glorious stained-glass windows that modern visitors come to see — centuries ago, the relics in the now-empty tabernacle were the main draw. The 19th-century restorations of this chapel were faithful to the original designs of which detailed descriptions were available (although the most recent research hints that the original paint was even brighter). Many of the statues but especially the stained-glass windows are original.

The upper chapel is characterized by wide, tall windows and slender pillars with a near absence of any regular walls. Light floods in any time of the day but a sunny day is of course exceptionally special.

Stained-Glass Windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

The stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris consist of 15 large sets of windows depicting 1113 mostly Biblical scenes. Just over two-thirds of the 618 m2 colored glass is the original from the 13th century.

Magnificent stained-glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

The windows in the nave are just over 15 m high (50 ft) while those in the apse are around 14 m (45 ft) to enhance the optical illusion of a longer chapel. The width ranges from nearly 5 m to just over 2 m for the ones in the apse. No such tricks were needed for the vaulted ceiling: at 20.5 m high it compares well with the height of contemporary cathedrals despite the relatively small floor space of around 33 by 10.7 meters (108 by 35 ft).

Most of the windows depict stories from the Old Testament starting with Genesis and the Creation at the far rear left when facing the front and main altar area. In the apse are windows depicting New Testament events including the lives of St John the Evangelist, St John the Baptist, and the Passion of Christ at the center (but partly hidden behind the tabernacle).

Each set of stained-glass stories is read per window from left to right and bottom to top. The only exception is the windows at the rear opposite Genesis. These tell the story of how the Holy Crown traveled from Jerusalem to Paris — the only non-Biblical events depicted in the windows. Here the story is told boustrophedonically, which the free brochure helpfully explains means each row alternating from left to right and right to left, like a basic set of snakes and ladders. (This window was largely reimagined in the 19th century.)

Apocalypse Rose Window

The large flamboyant rose window is around a century newer than the other stain-glassed windows and illustrates the apocalypse so it is full of fanciful figures. It consists of 87 petals — only 9 were replaced during the 19th century.

Sainte-Chapelle Paris rose window

Half of the sculptures of the 12 apostles are originals including St Peter at the front left of the nave. Many further sculptures were destroyed, especially during the French Revolution, and were replaced in the 19th century. Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume sculpted many of these based on detailed earlier descriptions.

The 100 capitals are all individually decorated as are the 42 martyr scenes in the quatrefoils. These are also 19th-century replacements based on earlier drawings and descriptions.

Apps are available to explain the various windows but free information sheets in many languages also do the job. Guided tours may also explain the more interesting bits

Some of the original stained glass windows are in the Cluny Medieval Museum in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where it is possible to have a really close-up look at the colorful glass.

Visitor Information for Sainte-Chappelle in Paris

Sainte Chapelle Paris Flagellation and Crown of Thorns Stained-Glass Window

Opening Hours of Sainte-Chapelle

blue fleur-de-lys columns for the French royal family with the purple-red castles in Sainte Chapelle Paris

Sainte-Chapelle is open daily:

  • 9:00 to 17:00 from October to March
  • 9:00 to 19:00 from April to September.

Sainte-Chapelle is closed only on 1 January, 1 May, and 25 December.

The monument is inside the perimeter of the Palace of Justice, which is still a working court so requires airport-style security (just much friendlier).

The 30-minute time slot on the ticket is for being at the street entrance making it unnecessary to arrive early — a few minutes late may even save time as the front of the queue starts to clear security.

Buying Tickets to See Stained-Glass Windows in Sainte-Chapelle

Sainte Chapelle Paris Crucifixion stained-glass window

Time-slot reservations are essential during the summer months and may also be enforced the rest of the year. Time-slots are usually reserved when buying tickets online or if using a Paris Museum Pass or any other valid ticket, make a free time-slot reservation online in advance. Time slots are also essential for any visitors qualifying for free admission.

Admission tickets for Sainte-Chapelle are €13 or buy a combination ticket with the Conciergerie for €20.

Entry is free for all visitors under 18 years and EU nationals 18 to 25 years old.

Admission is free on the first Sunday of the month but only from November to March.

Guided tours of Sainte-Chapelle often include further sights in the vicinity such as the Conciergerie and Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Transportation to Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

Sainte-Chapelle, 10, boulevard du Palais, 75001 Paris, is on Île de la Cité island in the Seine River near Notre Dame. Admission is via the Palace of Justice complex with the security line forming in the street outside the clearly marked entrance.

The closest metro station is Cité on line 4, while walking from Châtelet (metro 1, 7, 11, 14) or Saint-Michel (RER B & C) is likely faster than changing for a train stopping at Cité.

See Top Stained-Glass Windows in France

Public transportation is cheap from Paris to see the magnificent stained-glass window of Chartres Cathedral including the Blue Virgin

The stained-glassed windows of Sainte-Chapelle are magnificent and without equal in Paris. However, even larger and more impressive are the blue stained-glass windows in Chartres — an easy day trip from Paris and a good choice for cheaper and peaceful accommodation.

Troyes in the Aube en Champagne region is also famous for the stained-glass windows in several churches, a magnificent half-timbered town center, and the largest factory-store outlet mall in France. Troyes is a great stop-over, especially when driving to the south of France or Switzerland from Paris, England, or Belgium.

Henk Bekker in armor

About the author:

Henk Bekker

Henk Bekker is a freelance travel writer with over 20 years of experience writing online. He is particularly interested in history, art, and culture. He has lived most of his adult life in Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. In addition to European-Traveler.com, he also owns a travel website on the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland and maintains statistical websites on car sales and classic car auction prices. Henk holds an MBA from Edinburgh Business School and an MSc in Development Finance from the University of London.

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