An Evening at Sainte-Chapelle

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Eiffel Tower. Louvre. Notre Dame. Arc de Triomphe. Show-stoppers and breath-takers to be sure, but nowhere in Paris was I more awestruck than in the Sainte-Chapelle. The Louvre has Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower owns the skyline, but where else in Paris, let alone Europe, can you feel as if you’ve been transported inside of a kaleidoscope, bright and brilliant? The answer: Sainte-Chapelle. It’s a must for any Paris itinerary, and with some planning and following a few tips, can be a magical night you’ll never forget.

Sainte-Chapelle (or Holy Chapel) was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to be built in the King’s residence to house his collection of Passion relics, including the prized Christ's Crown of Thorns. Built in just seven years and finished in 1248, Saint-Chapelle is one of the world’s finest examples of High-Gothic or Rayonnant architecture, noted for its emphasis on tall spaces and feeling of weightlessness when inside.

The main attraction, however, is the over 600 square meters of stained glass, most of which are original. Entering through a circular staircase, you’ll be met with the brilliant glow from 15 stained glass windows, each over 50 feet high. The windows cover so much of the wall surface it appears that the glass itself is all that’s holding the arched ceiling high above. The stained glass depicts over 1,000 separate scenes from the old and new testaments, telling their story as well as how the holy relics made their way to Paris. Though the chapel was built to house the King’s collection of jewels, it seems the chapel itself has stolen the show.  

Unfortunately, the secret is long since out on Sainte-Chapelle, which means seeing the famed stained glass is often accompanied by long lines and crowded spaces. Trying to take your own photo of Sainte-Chapelle’s stained glass over hundreds of outstretched phone isn’t what the chapel designers had in mind. Luckily, there’s a way to avoid the crowds and experience this treasure the way it was intended, in a peaceful setting during the magical light of sunset. How? The secret is to sign up for one of the often available concerts performed within Sainte-Chapelle each evening. That’s right, not only do you get to bask in the setting sun filtered through the magnificent stained glass, but get to do so while being serenaded by a live classical music performance. If Sainte-Chapelle is on your list, and it should be, there isn’t a good reason not to do this. Here are the details.

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The first step is to plan in advance. While concert tickets can be purchased in many ways, the best choice is to buy you seats in advance from Classic Tic. Concerts are typically offered Friday through Monday evenings, with tickets ranging between 50 and 70 Euros depending on the seat. Seats are sold in large sections, you do not specifically purchase individual seats, and so arriving early will let you snag the best seat within you section. The chapel itself is located within the perimeter of the Palace of Justice of Paris, and therefore you can expect to go through normal security measures such as x-ray machines. We arrived early to our show and enjoyed dinner outside at one of the local cafés. Entrance to the chapel begins about 20 minutes prior to the start of the concert. During this time you are free to roam the chapel, enjoy the setting and, best of all, take all of the un-obstructed pictures your heart desires. Instead of being packed with hundreds of other tourists, our concert only had about 40 attendees, which made it feel like we had the place to ourselves. Soon, the sun begins to set, lighting up the space in brilliant light. By evenings end you’ll feel like royalty yourself, and have a memory you’ll not soon forget.