Europe 2022 – Paris, Part Three

June 6 – 8

With another round of sightseeing on tap that morning, we were disappointed to discover that our favorite bakery around the corner was closed that day.  Rats!!  Undaunted, we walked down Avenue Parmentier in hopes of finding a substitute when lo and behold, two very long blocks found us in front of Patisserie Yann Couvreur.  One of a group of shops founded and managed by Mr. Couvreur, we entered and ordered a coffee apiece and a delicious caramelly pastry that was a delight to behold. 

After, we walked back to the bus stop at Cosmos and as luck would have it, didn’t have to wait long to hop on and head back to the Left Bank for a visit to Sainte Chapelle, the gothic style royal chapel within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century.  Construction on the building began sometime after 1238 and the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248. 

Palais de la Cite in 1615 – By Matthäus Merian – Detail from File: Plan de Mérian.jpg, Public Domain

The Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture and was commissioned by King Louis IX to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom.  This was later held in the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral until the 2019 fire, which it survived.

Sainte Chapelle Exterior

Along with the Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité.  Although damaged during the French Revolution and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century-stained glass collections anywhere in the world.  Sainte-Chapelle is no longer a church as it was secularized after the French Revolution, which ended state religion and is now operated by the French Centre of National Monuments.

Sainte Chapelle First Floor

Sainte-Chapelle, as both a symbol of religion and royalty, was a prime target for vandalism during the French Revolution.  The chapel was turned into a storehouse for grain and the sculpture and royal emblems on the exterior were smashed.  Some of the stained glass was broken or dispersed, but nearly two-thirds of the glass today is original.  The sacred relics were dispersed although some survive as the “relics of Sainte-Chapelle” in the treasury of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Stained Glass First Floor

It is a very large structure at 118 ft long, 56 ft wide, and 139 ft high and is comprised of two levels, both equal in size but having entirely different purposes. The upper level, where the sacred relics were kept, was reserved exclusively for the royal family and their guests.  The lower level was used by the courtiers, servants, and soldiers of the palace.  

Lower chapel, with statue of Louis IX – By Guilhem Vellut from Paris, France

Not being too familiar with the chapel overall, we enjoyed our time on the first floor, admiring the stained glass but frankly wondering what all of the fuss was about.  Only afterward when we realized that it was where the lower orders of the royal court worshipped did it become clear that even in its plainness, it was a nice place to gather and honor one’s God. 

Sainte Chapelle Upper Floor

Leaving the first floor by way of an interior spiral staircase, we ascended to the second where we got our first look at the Royal Chapel and its most famous features, the fifteen great stained-glass windows in the nave and apse of the upper chapel, which are among the finest of their type in the world.  These date from the mid-13th century, as well as the later rose window which was put in place in the 15th century.  The thousands of small pieces of glass turn the walls into great screens of colored light, largely deep blues, and reds, which gradually change in intensity from hour to hour while the stone wall surface is reduced to little more than a delicate framework.

The Rose Window

The rose window at the west of the upper chapel was made in the late 15th century, later than the other windows.  It is a very fine example of the flamboyant Gothic style, named for the flamelike curling designs.  It is thirty feet in diameter and is composed of eighty-nine separate panels representing scenes of the Apocalypse.  The 15th-century glass artists used a new technique, calling silver stain, which allowed them to paint on the glass with enamel paints, and to use fire to fuse the paint onto the glass. This allowed them to modify the color and create shading and other fine details.  The window was thoroughly cleaned in 2014–15, giving it greater brightness and clarity.

Rose Window Up Close – : By Didier B (Sam67fr) – Own work

What can one say more than it is a spectacular sight, panel after panel of brightly lit stained glass, each telling a unique story, some from the New Testament (the Passion, the Infancy of Christ, and the Life of John the Evangelist) and most from the Old Testament (the Book of Genesis,  scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, (moving to the south wall) Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings.

Stained Glass Panel Upper Floor

As it was crowded inside and hard to determine which panel told which story, we just spent our time taking in the whole effect and then, full of the essence of the place, exited in search of a dual voltage tea pot (don’t ask) and perhaps something to eat.  We walked back across the Seine and striking out on the tea pot landed at Creperie Auguste, part of the BléNoir Family Marais

We were seated in the back of the restaurant and after ordering drinks, a cider for Joanna and a beer for me, we awaited our lunch entrees, The Ham and Cheese Crepe – (Roule Jambon – Emmental, jambon blanc, crème fraiche ciboulette) for me and the Caramel au beurre sale maison (caramel and butter crepe) for Joanna.  Hers was as good a dessert crepe you could want and mine was an unexpected delight, a crepe rolled up burrito style (roule is rolled in French) and was hearty enough to last me the rest of the day. 

Suitably fortified we continued our search for a dual voltage tea pot (I’d purchased a small one stateside only to discover after testing in Kansas City that it was only for 110 when it almost blew up while using it for the first time in Europe at Cosmos) at nearby Forum des Halles, a Westfield mall built on the grounds of what was Paris’ central fresh food market, which last operated in 1973. 

It was replaced by the current mall which is built largely underground and directly connected to the massive RER and métro transit hub of Châtelet–Les Halles.  The shopping mall welcomes 150,000 visitors daily.

It’s a gigantic sprawling complex but after a hour or more, we came up empty handed and abandoned our search, heading back to Cosmos for our last night in town, which we would finish by walking down the block to Liquiderie, a place I’d noticed earlier in the day and wanted to check out.  It’s fortunate that it took us until this last evening because otherwise we might have visited it every night. 

It’s a well-stocked wine and beer bar, crammed into a small footprint but retaining an intimate and charming vibe.  Joanna ordered a Lost and Grounded Running with Sceptres while I enjoyed a glass of a local white wine.  We sat at the small bar (there is seating outside in the back as well) and watched the barkeeper (the owner perhaps) interact with his customers, many of whom appeared to regulars, and with good reason.  Again, we’d found a hot spot for craft beer, a trend that started in Amsterdam and would continue throughout the trip, which we will cover as we work our way south. 

And so, we closed out our stay in Paris, the 11th time for me and the 8th for Joanna, including multiple stops in 2014.  It’s a place one never tires of and even though we’ve seen most of the major sights, some more than once, we were able to visit two this time we’d not been to before.  And both brought a new perspective about the city, the people who live here, and the French in general.  And what does that all mean?  That we will likely be back again sometime in the future. 

Links

Patisserie Yann Couvreur: https://www.yanncouvreur.com/

Sainte Chapelle: https://www.sainte-chapelle.fr/en/

Creperie Auguste/BléNoir Family Marais: https://www.blenoirgroup.com/creperie-blenoir-auguste-paris

Liquiderie: https://liquiderie.com/

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