Favorite Photos

Favorite Photos
Bernini's Ecstasy of St. Teresa

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Churches: Sainte-Chapelle in Paris

I wanted to go into the Notre Dame Cathedral during our weekend in Paris but was unable to. But fortuitously, for no other reason but because we got off the metro at La Cite, we decided to go into the Sainte-Chapelle. You may wonder why I say it was fortuitous? Simply because, the Sainte Chapelle is a jewel of a church! (I don’t say this lightly as I have visited tons of churches here in Rome).

The Sainte-Chapelle was built by Louis IX, canonized by the church and now known as St. Louis, to house the relics of the Holy Passion. He built this on the site of the king’s residence, the Palais de la Cite’ which was began by his grandfather, Philippe Auguste. Sainte-Chapelle was damaged during the revolution but restorations carried out between 1840 and 1868 restored the building to it’s thirteenth century appearance.

In 1239, Louis IX bought from Baudoin II de Courtenay the Franc emperor of the east (after the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204), who was in need of money for military purposes, the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ during the Passion for 130,000 livres (a considerable amount in any age). He then deposited the Crown of Thorns in the Chapel of St. Nicholas, close to the Palais de la Cite. Two years later he also bought a fragment of the Cross as well as other relics connected with the Passion. It may have been these purchases that inspired Louis IX to build a reliquary to house these precious relics. Thus the idea of the Sainte-Chapelle reliquary was born.

The work on this may have began in 1244. The Sainte-Chapelle is a Gothic (i.e. with the towering spires etc.) Palatine (a palace) chapel composed of two stories of identical surface areas but differing heights. The first floor was the palace chapel, open to the king's soldiers, courtiers in residence and servants. The lower chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and you enter it through the Portal of the Virgin.

The entrance hardly prepares one for what awaits inside. Stepping in you find yourself surrounded by color, specifically blue, red and gold. The columns are red and gold, the walls are painted a kind of terracota red, and the ceiling is a brilliant blue, studded with three pronged leaves of gold, absolutely stunning!

The blue, red and gold paintwork of the ceiling emphasizes the star pattern of the tops of the columns where each tip corresponds with the fall of a rib of the vault. Under the coloumns are statues and in the center of the bays are painted medallions of the apostles brightened by gilded plaster.

To reach the upper chapel, one needs to climb a very narrow corkscrew staircase. As one needs to watch where one is going, it is at the last step where one can look up, and is confronted by a marvelous sight! The top chapel is amazing in its dimension, its soaring ceiling and the thousand sparkling colored lights coming through the stained glass windows. The lower walls are painted with the same colors as the lower chapel. There are no upper walls, only glass which gives it an ethereal lightness. The ceiling is a replica of the lower chapel. When one looks up at this, surrounded by light, one gets the impression that one is looking up at the sky. It is truly awe-inspiring!

The stained glass windows depict different Christian themes. The one right behind the main altar for example depicts scenes from the Passion, the first one on the left closest to the entrance depicts the story of the Relics of the Passion stored here in the past. And the Rose window depicts the Apocalypse.

In the center, one sees the main altar and on top of the altar is the relics platform, no longer containing the relics for which it was intended. The Sainte-Chapelle was built for worshipping by someone who was familiar with man`s need for this, and who also knew how best to encourage, or awaken this need. As I sat there in the top chapel, people around me were seated quietly, some contemplating the guides identifying the stained glass window, others just sitting there, as awed as I was.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Weekend in Paris

In August, Italians leave Rome in droves, escaping the heat and the tourists, most taking a month off before the school holidays end. This exodus includes restaurateurs who board up their restaurants. Came across a number of those signs, one was at Alfredo y Ada where we wanted to bring our girls for a meal. The sign informed everyone they would reopen September 1. Other signs put September 2 or 3 or even September 4 as their reopening day. Feeling a little bit let-down after our visitors from home had all left, my husband and I decided to join this exodus even if for just a weekend. Needing a change of scenery, and a change of climate we decided to go to Paris, not that anyone needs an excuse to go to Paris!

We took an Air France flight from Rome’s Fiumicino to Paris Charles de Gaulle on Friday afternoon. This was the first time I took a flight out from Rome since I got here and as I found out, this was not the time to do this. The airport was packed, the system of checking in was in disarray (saying that politely, tongue-in-cheek), and tempers were short, in effect making the whole process very unpleasant and nerve-wracking.

Arriving in Paris was just as nerve-wracking, again made worse by hordes of people like us trying to “get-away”. We finally got to our hotel in the Montparnasse area exhausted and decided just to have dinner in the area and return to the hotel and sleep. The only thing that was pleasant at this point was the weather. It was so much cooler than Rome at 17 degrees celsius.

Notre Dame
The next morning after a good night’s sleep we decided to go to the Notre Dame, a church that to my mind has to be seen every time one visits Paris. We got off the Metro at Cite right on the square fronting the Palais de Justice. And from that moment on, we forgot the inconvenience and hassle of the trip, Paris once again had us enthralled!

Palais de Justice

There is something about Paris that can never be equalled by any other city in the world. She is grand and magnificent and self assuredly displays herself in all her glory with a nonchalance verging on arrogance. And none can resist her!

Kudos must be given to the planners of this city. Central plazas are surrounded by streets that radiate out in a star pattern where building facades facing the plaza form the point and then expands to a reclining v shape.  And wide roadways are lined with imposing buildings sporting wrought iron verandas of the most intricate designs.

And of course there's the River Seine, transected as it is by multiple bridges and lined on both sides by beautiful tree lined avenues where people can stroll by leisurely.

So what did we do in Paris? Not much really, first went inside the Sainte Chapelle, the church of Saint Louis (which I will write about later) and then just strolled along the River Seine, stopping at one of the little book stores to buy some fridge magnets and posters, and crossing one of the many bridges along the river. This bridge was of particular interest as it was reportedly a bridge for lovers, where couples getting married or engaged put a padlock on the bridge with their names.

The Louvre with it's pyramide
We were unable to go into Notre Dame on Saturday as the line was too long so we went to the Louvre the next day hoping to get in but of course with it being "free Sunday", there was no way we could do that. So we just found a step to sit on and just sat there contentedly taking everything in.

One thing we were able to do in Paris was eat. That Saturday for lunch we had beef, I had a steak au poivre, my husband had a steak tartare.

And for dinner we decided to have steak again, this time in La Maison d'Aubrac on Rue Marbeuf which a friend recommended. I had a fillet and shared in an order of mashed potatoes and cheese and it was delicious! For lunch the next day we went to Leon's on the Champ's Elysee and we both had mussles with french fries. It was as good as when we first ate there so many years ago, only difference was it is a lot more crowded!

And now for the french fries, what can I say? I ate a lot of them over the weekend cut in different styles and sizes but all of them deliciously addicting, american fries pale in comparison!

Walking back to the Metro along Champ's Elysee, another item that needed tasting presented itself: macaroons from Laduree!

So we return to Rome, senses satisfied and definitely a few pounds heavier.