Saint Chapelle

We said goodbye to Rod and Cornelia on the platform at Basel railway station at 8am this morning. We have had an amazing time with them both. Rod’s driving in France, especially in Paris, made it possible for us to experience the WW1 battlefields and Bayeux Tapestry, and Rod and Cornie’s love for Switzerland allowed us to see some of its bigger cities, travel to the Alps, and have a taste of Swiss family life. We’re really going to miss their company. Their train took them to Zurich, and from there they were catching a flight home to Australia via Singapore.

Last night, after I had written the Battle of Basel blog entry, we had a lovely final meal with Cornie’s family. Her mother Christine, sisters Ursula and Barbara, and brother-in-law Claudio came around to Christine’s house with some great food, including a cheese whose name translates as Head of the Monk and which is shaved on a wheel into flower shapes. Claudio played us a farewell tune on his squeezebox. Marg and I feel very connected to Cornie and her family, and we’re grateful for their generosity while we’ve been staying in Basel.

Our train left Basel just after 10.30am and brought us back to Paris. It was raining when we arrived, which probably didn’t surprise us, but it soon cleared up. Our hotel is in Rue de Rivoli, just a short walk to the river and the Town Hall. We’re also very close to Notre Dame, so we took a walk over onto the island over Pont d’Arcole to see what was happening with the clean up and restoration. The police still had all the roads around the cathedral closed, so it was hard to get close to it, and not much seemed to be happening on a Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, no doubt the yellow jacket protests were also going on in the Champs Elysee today. We didn’t see them, though we did see plenty of uniformed police, including many with automatic weapons. On more than one occasion a convoy of police vehicles with sirens blaring went rushing past.

Saint Chapelle and the Conciergerie are very close to Notre Dame, so we wandered down there and joined the queue to enter Saint Chapelle. We probably only waited for about ten minutes before we passed through the scanners and into the ticket office. A few minutes later we were in the lower chapel, which was quite beautiful but didn’t really prepare us for what we would soon see. We hired some audio guides, which told us the story of King Louis IX, who became a saint. He lived here at a time when this was the residence of French nobility, many years before Versailles was conceived or built.

St Louis was a very religious man, who attended multiple services per day, though not always in this chapel. One of the purposes of the chapel was to house some of the holy relics from the Passion of the Christ, including the Crown of Thorns. These were brought to France in the 1200s, not long after the chapel was constructed.

When we entered the upper chapel, what we saw literally took our collective breath away. Fifteen huge stained glass windows are aligned side by side around the chapel. Small panels within them tell different stories from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Altogether, there are over 1100 scenes from the Bible depicted in the windows. It is a magnificent sight to behold.

Next door to Saint Chapelle was the Conciergerie, where prisoners from the French Revolution were held. One of those was Marie Antoinette, who spent over 70 days imprisoned here. We spent some time wandering through the cell blocks, gathering information on how punishment and justice were dealt with during the Revolution, and learning how torture was brought to an end in favour of more humane forms of punishment, although the death penalty was not abolished as some sought for it to be.

It was raining again when we left the building and walked back to the hotel. It’s good to be back in Paris. Tonight we walked to a cafe within fifty metres of our hotel and ate dinner. We sat by the window and watched hundreds of people walk past. It was quite an entertaining thing to do.

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