I began the day by walking over to the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral, across the bridge to the Ile de la Cité, the little tugboat-shaped island in the middle of the Seine. The Sainte-Chapelle is not far from the Notre Dame, but this Gothic style church, built between 1242 and 1248 for King Louis IX, is quite different. It's much smaller, and only took 6 years to build. (It was built to house the supposed Crown of Thorns which is now kept at the Norte Dame and shown only on Good Friday!). The outside is functional, but the inside is glorious! Because buttresses hold up the roof, the walls function is to display the stained glass. The ceiling is painted with fleurs-de-lis, and the walls—the walls are made of stained glass! It is impossible with my iPhone to capture even a small hint of the dazzle these fifteen separate panels of stained glass create. Two-thirds of it is 13th century original. It covers Christian history from Genesis to the coming of Christ to—yes—the end of the world!
The Sainte Chapelle sits within in a huge complex of buildings that has housed local government since ancient times. The Palais de Justice, built in 1776 is where the French Supreme Court meets. The only medieval structures that remain are the Sainte Chapelle and the Conciergerie, the former prison that once incarcerated 2,780 souls who were beheaded during France's Reign of Terror after the revolution, September 5, 1793, to July 27, 1794. Marie Antoinette was one of these prisoners, and a reconstruction of her cell is on view. There is a tiny chapel built on the very spot where her cell was located. There is a medieval Hall of Men-At-Arms, built in 1302, where the guards dined and a number of interesting exhibits of original clothing, armor and reconstructions of prison cells.
How far could you walk in these shoes?
Marie Antoinette's reconstructed prison cell.
Back across the bridge, up St. Michel Blvd to the Cluny Museum, also known as the National Museum of the Middle Ages. During the Middle Ages, which is the time between ancient Rome and the Renaissance, Paris emerged onto the world stage. This museum houses old Roman baths, close-up looks at stained glass, Notre-Dame carvings, gold fabrications and jewelry, rooms of tapestries, and the exquisite Lady and the Unicorn series of six tapestries that absolutely thrilled me! I am in love with the Lady and the Unicorn! There are also medieval altarpieces, weaponry, 8th century Visigothic crowns and more. Below are some stone heads (1220-1230) of biblical kings of Judah that once decorated the Notre-Dame, and stained glass depicting the violence of medieval religious superstition.
Below are the remains of Roman baths, constructed in A.D. 200, with a 40-foot high ceiling was the largest Roman vault in France. The column fragment is one of four remaining fragments that are the oldest man-made objects in Paris. The fragments once supported a 20-foot altar to the king of the gods in the temple of Jupiter, A.D. 14-37.
The Lady of the Unicorns! These are breathtaking! You enter an oval room displaying six fascinating tapestries, designed by an unknown artist sometime before 1500. They were woven in Belgium of wool and silk. These are some of the most lyrical and mysterious pieces I have ever seen. I am enchanted! The low light level in the room and my iPhone camera doesn't show their vibrant color and beauty. Take my word for it, these are stunning. I bought a book about these pieces with quotes from Rainer Maria Rilke from his "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" describing each tapestry. Can't wait to read it. The themes for five of the tapestries are the senses: Taste, Hearing, Sight, Smell and Touch. The sixth and largest is titled: A Mon Seul Dérsir (To My Sole Desire). Might it refer to the "sixth" sense of intuition?