The Gothic chapel of Sainte Chapelle in Paris has a long history. Commissioned in the 13th century by King Louis IX, its purpose was to enshrine holy relics, including Christ’s supposed crown of thorns. This stunning chapel is widely regarded as one of the finest and most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture and is a marvel of the Medieval age. One of the only buildings of its age left on the Île de la Cité, the chapel has stood for almost 800 years, surviving the turmoil of the French revolution and the Second World War. Visited by countless tourists over the years, Sainte Chapelle has been best known for its spectacular stained glass windows. These huge windows are one of the the world’s most extensive collections of Medieval stained glass. The restoration was commissioned in order to celebrate the late monarch’s 800th birthday.
The chapel boasts no less than fifteen spectacular windows throughout the nave and apse. They illustrate stories from the Bible, including the Passion of the Christ, Jesus as a child and the life of John the Evangelist as well as images from every book of the old testament. The final window is a representation of King Louis IX himself, receiving Christ’s holy relics. Altogether, the windows contain 6,458 sq ft of glass and display over 1,000 people from the Bible.
Over the past seven years, these famous windows have been undergoing an extensive refurbishment to return them to their original condition. Centuries of dirt and grime had built up, spoiling the beautiful glass and preventing the light from shining through properly to create the full intended effect. Every single panel from each one of the fifteen windows was painstakingly removed and taken down in order to carry out the cleaning process. Each panel was then cleaned using a new and modern technique involving the use of lasers to effectively remove the dirt that had built up over the years.
As well as using this laser cleaning technique, the intention was also to protect the glass from any further damage. To this end, upon replacing the panes of glass, a protective layer, or “skin” of outer glass has been applied to the windows. This is to prevent damage from traffic pollution in the future and hopefully, means that the windows will not need to undergo such a complex and time consuming cleaning procedure again. This glass skin will not alter the windows’ beautiful appearance but will take care of them for future generations to enjoy.
As well as cleaning the glass and applying the new outer layer, some of the lead joins that hold the panes in place have now been replaced with clear glue which improves their appearance as well as allowing more light into the chapel.
This restoration has brought Sainte Chapelle back to its former glory, ready for almost a million visitors every year to enjoy.