no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Concierge and Saint Chappelle

After leaving the Sacre Coeur, I hop on the subway and take it down to the Ile de la Cite where I had been the previous night on the bike tour. Since I knew the basic layout of the area because of the bike tour I was very grateful I'd gone on it. The Concierge was my first stop after getting off the train and it was much smaller than I thought it would be which made me glad it was included in the Museum Pass so I paid no extra money on it. Upon entering the building you step down into a floor like a basement because it is all stone, but not quite a whole floor below the surface. In the large space with numerous columns (it looks like a church) there is a temporary art exhibition on the left side and a very interesting spiral staircase on the right. The rest of the room doesn't have much to look at.

After walking through the main space, I pass through a small gift shop area into the prison section. The Concierge was the main prison used for holding those who were awaiting trial or execution during the French Revolution. Probably the most famous prisoner held here was Marie Antionette who stayed for a short period before being beheaded. The first cells observered are that of the workers of the prison like the warden. The spaces are tiny and were used for bookeeping and other things related to maintaining the prison. From that point they have other cells set up with mannequins so you can see how crappy living in a prison was. There are also descriptions of the conditions for the poorest people who shared cells. The cells had only hay to cover the cement floor and because of such tight accomodations, disease spread rapidly.

Upstairs there are more cells with mannequins. A couple of the ones in this section were for those who could pay for an "upgrade" and didn't have to share cells. They were also able to have such things as a bed, chair, desk, books, paper, writing utensils etc. These prisoners still had sucky lives but they didn't seem to suck as much as the ones in the communal cells. This was the first place, of a few, that made me never want to go to jail EVER!

After seeing the generic cells, I moved through an informative section that detailed the lives of some of the prisoners. The entire section had English translations which I found very helpful; but like with many places I went to, the information provided assumed you knew the basic history of the place and people. So I liked reading all the profiles of what people did to get into jail, but a fair amount was lost on me. From here I went back downstairs and entered the area where Marie Antionette's cell was. Though they do their best to replicate the cell, the layout of the space was slightly altered due to structural changes to the building, especially the chapel next to her old cell. She had a very fancy and decorated room and was guarded my her own personal guard. There was definitely a lack of privacy though for her since there wasn't no door between her space and the guard (once again, this is all from how the museum placed furniture, decorations, etc.).

The chapel was just that...a small chapel. Nothing fancy or exciting, but I did like how the paintings were described in English and pointed out certain important political figures. I pass through the chapel walk through a courtyard which places me back by the warden's cell area. The Concierge had one more room for me to look at and like the main hall, didn't have much. The carvings on the columns are very interesting but there's nothing outstanding about the place. I get back onto the sideway, walk about 500 feet and turn into the entrance for the Saint Chappelle. The church is part of the Palais de Justice (Court House) complex therefore I must go through a metal detector before entering the courtyard where the church is.

The Saint Chappelle is not a huge church, it's actually quite small in terms of square feet. With my awesome museum pass I get to bypass the ticket line and head straight in. The entrance is in what I would call the basement, which is also a gift shop that has a small chapel/prayer space towards the back. To access the main sanctuary I walk up a narrow, stone stairwell and enter. It's pretty cold inside but that doesn't stop me from appreciating the beauty of it. From about 10-12 feet off the floor up to the very high ceiling are stained glass windows that circle the entire space. Each large window are tall and narrow and made up of smaller spaces that tell stories of the Bible. I'm not going to try and bulls*it what stories the windows tell because I didn't read the info provided but they are from the Bible.

I sit along the side of the church in the chairs amongst all the other tourist and am really taken back by the detail of each window. There are thousands and thousands of pieces of glass used for each window and each window is distinct. None of the them tell the same story and the smaller spaces are all differnet geometrically. The two examples I posted above show circles and non-striaght-edged diamonds. The back window, which is seen when looking at the church from the front outside, is a large "rose window" which I find particularly stunning. The framework is that of a flower, but each piece of the flower is an element of what section of the Bible is being told.

My only dissapointment with the Saint Chappelle is that for some reason (maybe because the sun wasn't shining through it) was that the left sided windows were very dark and it was hard to distinguish what the pictures were depicting. There was also a lot of scaffolding covering the front-left portion of the church and the main center window above the altar and so not being able to see that was sad. But since like 75% of the glass is original from however long ago, I understand them having to preserve the building and the glass. Though the building is another place that I probably could have stared at for awhile, I still had many places to see. And it was quite cold. I exit the church, find the exit to the Palais de Justice complex and head south towards the Cathedral de Notre Dame.

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