This is my guide to La Sainte Chapelle Paris, one of the most beautiful churches in Europe and one of probably 5 or 6 of the greatest Gothic churches ever built.
This 13th century royal chapel, built to house relics from the crucifixion of Jesus, is astonishing, and deserves top billing along with Notre Dame and the Basilica of St Denis as the best churches to visit in Paris.
It’s best known for its incredible array of medieval stained glass, which takes up most of the walls of this astonishing building.
My guide to Sainte Chapelle in Paris tells you everything you need to know before visiting this amazing church, from buying tickets to the best time of day to visit.
I cover all the practicalities of a visit to Sainte Chapelle, while giving you a detailed guide to what to see there.
Sainte Chapelle is astounding, and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
Why Visit La Sainte Chapelle Paris
La Sainte Chapelle Paris is one of the greatest achievements in medieval Gothic architecture, and one of the most beautiful churches in Europe.
Along with the slightly earlier Chartres Cathedral, the Sainte Chapelle stained glass windows are among the best produced in the Middle Ages, and the most famous in the world.
Along with nearby Notre Dame Cathedral and the Basilica of St Denis, it’s a Paris must see.
Facts about Sainte Chapelle Paris
Sainte Chapelle Paris was partly inspired by a much earlier Royal Chapel – the astonishing Palatine Chapel in Aachen Cathedral, built by Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne around the end of the 8th century AD.
Unlike most of the other famous churches in Paris, Sainte Chapelle was built in one go – roughly between 1242 and 1248 – hence its unity in style and design.
There are two chapels in Sainte Chapelle – the lower chapel was intended for use by members of the royal court, nobles and servants, while the upper chapel was only intended for use by the French royal family.
The upper chapel of La Sainte Chapelle Paris is no longer a church – it was deconsecrated at the time of the French Revolution, and church services have not been held there since.
Its name is usually written Sainte Chapelle or Sainte-Chapelle, and in French it is abbreviated to Ste Chapelle. However, English speakers often refer to it as Saint Chapelle or St Chapelle.
Sainte Chapelle History
Sainte Chapelle – which translates as ‘Holy Chapel’ – was built by King Louis IX of France (also known as Saint Louis) to house a collection of relics he had acquired from Baldwin II, Latin emperor in Constantinople, in 1235.
These relics included the Crown of Thorns purportedly worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, and also some fragments of the True Cross (on which he was crucified).
Other relics procured by Saint-Louis include the Holy Lance, which was used to pierce him just after he died on the cross, and the Holy Sponge, with which he was given a drink of vinegar while on the cross.
Sainte-Chapelle was subject to some modifications in the later Middle Ages, including an external staircase, which was later demolished.
La Sainte-Chapelle Paris suffered from some of the iconoclastic fervour whipped up by the French Revolution, and was secularised, ceasing to be a working church.
It also suffered some damage, including the destruction of the spire, and the relics were also removed, with some ending up in nearby Notre Dame Cathedral.
What To See In La Sainte Chapelle Paris
Sainte Chapelle Architecture
The architecture of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is from the mid-13th century, around a century after the first foray into Gothic was made a few miles away at the Basilica of St Denis.
La Sainte Chapelle Paris was built around the same time as Amiens Cathedral and was one of the first examples of what has since become known as the Rayonnant Gothic style.
During this period there was an emphasis on decoration, particularly with regard to church windows. Architects went for bigger windows and delicate stonework holding them together, and there is no better example of this than Sainte-Chapelle.
Sainte Chapelle Stained Glass
The vast majority of the Sainte Chapelle windows are in the upper chapel, once the sole preserve of the French royal family.
My impression over both my visits to Sainte-Chapelle is that the windows seem to be giant walls of stained glass, held together by lacework in stone.
There are 15 stained glass windows in La Sainte Chapelle Paris, reaching a height of 15 metres (50 feet). They depict over 1,100 scenes, and mostly consist of Biblical stories from both the Old and New Testaments.
Some also show the acquisition of the relics and their delivery to Saint Louis and Sainte Chapelle.
Around two-thirds of the stained-glass windows in Sainte Chapelle are originals from the 13th century – the rest are replacements following damage, particularly at the time of the French Revolution.
Sainte Chapelle Rose Window
The magnificent rose window in Sainte Chapelle was added around 1490, 250 years after the windows in the rest of the Upper Chapel.
It differs stylistically from the other windows in Sainte Chapelle, and is a classic Flamboyant Gothic rose window (rosace in French). Flamboyant Gothic was a style of architecture used in the late 14th and throughout the 15th century, characterised by intricate decorative stonework like this rose window.
The window also differs in colour from the earlier panel windows – the hues are less saturated and intense than the 13th century glass.
This rose window depicts the Last Judgment, as foretold in the Revelation of St John. It’s one of the most fascinating windows in Sainte Chapelle, complete with a multi-headed Beast and the Whore of Babylon.
Other Details In Sainte Chapelle
The stained-glass windows dominate your attention in Sainte Chapelle, but the ceiling vault and some of the other decoration is also worth a closer look.
The ceiling vault is a wondrous sight, painted deep blue like a twilight sky with hundreds of stars. It’s magical, and the nave vault in St Germain des Pres church, across the river on the Left Bank, is similar.
Sainte Chapelle is also adorned with statues of the Twelve Apostles and some exquisitely painted pillars, including the one pictured with the fleur de lis pattern.
Sainte Chapelle – The Lower Chapel
You enter the Lower Chapel (Chapelle Basse) first before heading up the staircase to the Upper Chapel (Chapelle Haute).
This was where royal staff and servants worshipped, and it’s as richly decorated as many a cathedral or large church. The pillars are beautifully painted, as are the ceiling vaults.
The Lower Chapel also houses the Sainte Chapelle gift shop, which sells a selection of books and souvenirs.
La Sainte Chapelle Paris – The Terrace
When I visited in July 2022, a lot of restoration work was in progress around the exterior of Sainte-Chapelle, and the only clear sight I could get of it was from an entrance to the Palais de Justice complex where visitors leave after visiting the Chapel.
This conservation work meant that the terrace next to the main external door of the Upper Chapel of Sainte Chapelle was closed, which was a great pity.
Fortunately, the first time I visited Sainte Chapelle Paris this area was accessible. The intricate sculpted doorway is one of the hidden wonders of Sainte Chapelle, and if it’s accessible when you visit, be sure to take a few minutes to see it.
La Sainte Chapelle Paris – Top Visitor Tip
Some visitors to Sainte Chapelle say how beautiful the windows are when sunlight is shining through them. I saw this for myself when I visited back in 2000 and can vouch for this.
However, when I returned to Sainte Chapelle in 2022 it was a dull, overcast day. Yet if anything the windows looked more beautiful, the near-800-year-old hues richer without direct sunlight. I’d like to return again with my wife and son one day, and we’ll look to do so on another dull day.
If you’re looking for things to do in Paris in the rain, Sainte-Chapelle is a great place to go for an hour or so.
Best time to visit Saint Chapelle
The best time to visit Sainte Chapelle Paris – and other similar attractions – would be early in the morning or near the end of the day.
I opted to book a time slot at 1730, the last but one slot of the day. That should be a quiet time, my wife suggested. It wasn’t, as it turned out – la Sainte Chapelle was packed with people.
I had checked the early morning slots (0900 and 0930) and they had similar numbers of places available to the time I chose. However, at 0900 I suspect there would be less walk-up visitors than late in the day.
Does Sainte Chapelle have Mass Services?
Sainte-Chapelle was deconsecrated at the time of the French Revolution, and so according to ecclesiastical law can no longer host services. It is now a National Monument, but no longer a functioning church.
Classical Music Concerts at St Chapelle
Evening Sainte Chapelle concerts are held throughout the year, and normally consist of popular classical favourites such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Strauss waltzes, Mozart, Schubert and other familiar names right across the classical repertoire.
Capacity is limited to 200 for performances, which because of the size of the venue are usually by small ensembles or soloists.
We haven’t attended a concert in Sainte Chapelle, but can guarantee that it is an incredible setting for such performances.
Visiting Saint Chapelle Paris
St Chapelle Entrance Fee
The price for admission for adults to Sainte Chapelle Paris is 11.50 euros. Under 25s get in free.
St Chapelle Opening Times
Sainte Chapelle is open from 0900 to 1900 (9 am to 7 pm) from April 1st to September 30th.
Between 1st October and 31st March it is open from 0900 to 1700 (9 am to 5 pm).
Sainte Chapelle Tickets
The best way to visit Sainte-Chapelle is with a skip the line ticket, which will take you past the walk-up visitors queuing outside the Palais de la Cite.
This ticket can be used at any time on the day you book for – you are not tied to a particular visit time.
You can also visit La Sainte Chapelle Paris with the Paris Museum Pass – if doing so, you are advised to reserve a time slot online before visiting, to avoid lengthy queues outside.
It’s also possible to buy a ticket which entitles you to entry to the Conciergerie – which includes the prison cells – a short distance along the street. If you don’t have the Paris Museum Pass this is very good value. It’s 18.50 euros for both attractions – a saving of over 4 euros.
Saint Chapelle Entrance
The entrance to the Palais de Justice and Sainte Chapelle is on the west side of Boulevard du Palais, on the Ile de la Cite.
As the photograph above shows, signs on the building indicate where the entrance is. Barriers are also set up on the street with lines for each time slot.
From there, you proceed into the Palais de Justice, where you pass through a security bag check before moving on to the Lower Chapel in Sainte Chapelle.
Can you take bags into Sainte Chapelle?
You can only take small bags into La Sainte Chapelle, and these are subject to a security scan. The website states that ‘large and voluminous’ bags are forbidden.
When I visited La Sainte Chapelle I took a small dry bag worn over my shoulder, and only carried my camera body and two lenses. This meant I got through security and into the Chapel quickly and easily.
Is there locker storage at Sainte Chapelle?
No, there is no baggage storage at Sainte Chapelle. So you really do need to travel light if you’re visiting.
David Angel is a Welsh historian, photographer and writer. He is a European travel expert with over 30 years’ experience exploring Europe.
He has a degree in History from Manchester University, and his work is regularly featured in global media including the BBC, Condé Nast Traveler, The Guardian, The Times, and The Sunday Times.
David is fluent in French and Welsh, and can also converse in Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Czech and Polish.
He creates detailed travel guides about the places he visits, combining personal experience, historical context, and his images to help you plan a fantastic trip.
Explore these other churches in Paris:
- Saint Germain des Prés – the oldest church in Paris, and one of the most beautiful too
- St Julien le Pauvre – gorgeous humble church a few minutes’ walk from Sainte Chapelle
- Saint-Sulpice Paris – Baroque beauty in the Latin Quarter of Paris
- Saint Etienne du Mont – splendid late Gothic and Renaissance gem in the Latin Quarter
- Visiting Sacre Coeur – the hilltop Byzantine basilica in Montmartre
Also check out some of our other Paris articles:
- 28 Best Eiffel Tower Views in Paris – where to get the best views of Paris’ most famous landmark
- The Pantheon Paris – complete guide to the ‘national temple’ of France
- Pont Alexandre III – the most beautiful bridge in Paris
- Statue of Liberty in Paris – seeking out the replicas of Lady Liberty in Paris
- Parc Monceau Paris – beautiful folly-filled park near the Arc de Triomphe
- Abbesses Metro – the most beautiful Metro station in Paris
- Rue de l’Abreuvoir – one of the most picturesque streets in Paris
- Rue St Rustique – one of the oldest streets in Paris