20.05.2015

Sainte-Chapelle

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With financial support from the VILLUM FOUNDATION, Paris' 750 year-old Sainte-Chapelle has undergone extensive restorations by the French Ministry of Culture. The church reopened on 20 May 2015.

Sainte-Chapelle
On the island Île de la Cité, Paris' Sainte-Chapelle, with its great and almost continuous windows is one of architecture history's most stunning glass constructions, and one of the finest example of Gothic architecture.

Louis IX constructed the church in 1242-48 to house relics of Jesus Christ that he had purchased from the emperor of Constantinople, Beaudoin II. 

The architecture is attributed to Pierre de Montreuil, who chose to limit the use of stonework, instead constructing enormous open wall surfaces and filling them with 15 large stained glass church windows – a glass mosaic depiction of the Old and New Testaments.

The elegant construction with its slender sandstone columns and large mosaic panes was made possible by reinforcing the stone with iron and utilising vaults to disperse the weight of the roof to the flying buttresses on the chapel's exterior.

Over time, these unique 13th century church windows were blackened and damaged by centuries of soot, pollution and tourists; Sainte-Chapelle receives 800 000 tourists annually, and alone the moisture from their breath creates condensation that contributes to the degradation of the stained glass.

Restoration of the church's glass mosaics had already begun in 1970, but the VILLUM FOUNDATION's donation in the amount of five million Euros enabled completion of the renovations. The renovations cost a total of approximately 10 million Euros.

Renovation
The renovation focussed primarily on cleaning and preserving the existing medieval mosaics and replacing newer restorations with restorations that more closely resemble the original.

Seven glass mosaics – three in the apse and four in the northern façade – were renovated by six glass restorers with a particular sense of care for the faces in the paintings.

Insulating glass was necessary to control the climate on the mosaics' exterior. Each section was dismantled individually, removed from its lead supports and analysed for traces of paint. Dirt was then removed together with a film that had been applied in 1945 to protect the glass in bombardments, and which has darkened the glass over time.

The restoration was completed in May of 2015, and Sainte-Chapelle will continue to give visitors a spectacular experience when the daylight shines through the cathedral's newly cleansed glass mosaic walls.

A faithful copy of a section of a glass mosaic from Sainte-Chapelle is on exhibit at VILLUM Window Collection – specifically, panel number 98 in bartizan number 103.