In 1248, King Louis IX of France left for the Crusades knowing that his position as the ‘most Christian’ king was manifested in Sainte Chapelle. In 1244, after having just recovered from a serious illness, King Louis began his preparations for the Crusades which included the construction of Saint Chapelle as a reliquary for the recently purchased Crown of Thorns and a fragment of the True Cross. Not only did the palatine chapel house the relics of the Passion, but it also functioned as a symbol of the Capetians’ alliance with God. This link between God and French kingship was established by both symbolising Solomon’s temple in the design of the reliquary and by representing a royal lineage from the Old Testament to contemporary times in the stained glass windows. By examining the role of royal patronage in the artistic programme of Sainte Chapelle, King Louis’s political ambitions to be the succeeding ruler of Christendom and for his kingdom as to be the New Jerusalem are made evident.
A New Jerusalem in Paris:
In order to understand the significance of Sainte Chapelle as Solomon’s Temple ‘reborn,’ it is important to consider the mindset of the patron himself, the French people's belief towards their king as Christ’s vicar, and the view of Paris as the new centre of Christianity. King Louis IX was considered to embody the notion of a Christian king: chivalrous, powerful, and rich, yet also pious and a dutiful son to the institution of the church.  The king’s purchase of the relics from the Byzantine Empire not only reflected his personal fondness for the cult of the Passion but also asserted his claim as true heir to the throne of Israel making the Capetians the chosen people of God. This belief that the French were the new chosen people was not an innovation by King Louis IX but was well established as evidenced by Pope Gregory’s IX characterisation of the French in 1239: “The Son God...has established different kingdoms...so the kingdom of France is distinguished above all other peoples of the world by being singled out for honour and grace by the Lord.”  While the reliquary affirmed Louis’s succession of the Christendom kingship, the commission of the reliquary in the palatine chapel visually displayed France’s divine connection with the Promise Land in which Sainte Chapelle would be the Locus Sanctus.
Although the architect of Sainte Chapelle remains unknown, the construction is in keeping with the 13th century belief that the design of the church should evoke the image of heaven. The structure of Sainte Chapelle suggests the splendour of a shrine turned inward, and the design of the chapel suggests a celestial microcosm within the Capetian world. The chapel was divided into two levels: the upper level was a sacred space for both the Passion relics and the royal court while the lower level was devoted to the Virgin and functioned as a parish church for the personnel of the palace. The lower level also served as a structural base for the spiritual monument above in which the solid walls and low vaults anchored the building. With this sturdy basement and with the structural aid from the exterior (i.e. the abutments), the verticality of the upper chapel is able to appear weightless contributing to its ethereal atmosphere. The solidity of the supporting elements highly contrasts with the transparency of the stained glass windows in which the walls seem porous as light filters through.  Also, the highly decorated interior -filled with gold, enamel, and glass- is jewel-like in comparison with the plain exterior. Thus, the structure of Sainte Chapelle can be viewed as a reliquary where the decorated shrine has been turned inward. Through the chapel’s shrine-like appearance, the divine association between France and Heavenly Jerusalem is emphasised.
At the east end of the chapel, the reliquary was enclosed by an elevated baldachin which alluded to Solomon’s temple in its design. The tribune and baldachin which surrounded the reliquary provided a Gothic version of the porch of Solomon through its façade-like structure.  The tribune and baldachin served as support for the most important material evidence of the Incarnation, the relics of the Passion.( Incidentally, the relics were placed within a container entirely made of precious metals and gems; unfortunately, this grand châsse no longer exists as it was melted down a few centuries after its creation.  Through association with symbols of Solomon’s temple, the tribune and baldachin affirmed the culmination of the Incarnation. symbolised by the Passion relics. While Solomon is considered the builder of the house of the God in the Old Testament, King Louis is considered to be the Capetian equivalent in 1248 with the building of Sainte Chapelle.
Imperial Manifesto in Stained Glass:
In the upper chapel of Saint Chappelle historical scenes from the Old Testament to contemporary times to the Apocalypse are presented on the stained glass panels with surrounding ‘mosaic’ decorative ground. The stained glass windows present the narrative of King Louis as the descendant of Biblical kings and the role both he and his mother played in leading the people to eternal life
One way King Louis IX conveyed his manifesto was his selection of specific Biblical panels for the stained glass windows which highlighted his messianic aspirations. In particular, the notion of a lineage of divine kingship is established through scenes from the Old Testament beginning with Moses. At least seven panels show God interacting with Moses, emphasising his role as God’s chosen leader and as a lawgiver as seen in the depiction of the handing down of the Two Tablets of Law.  Another important scene depicted is the promise made by God to Moses concerning the building of the Temple of Solomon which sets up the Incarnation prophecy and justified King Louis’s decision to house the relics, which relate to the fulfilment of the Incarnation, in a newly built ‘Solomon’s Temple.’  In the panels representing the episodes of Joshua, themes of battle and idolatry are highlighted which referenced the upcoming Crusade. Joshua is regaled in the Old Testament as a mighty warrior with complete faith in God, represented in the window panel as a battle scene against the unbelievers while crossing the river Jordan; by implication of common genealogy, King Louis is also a devout military leader who has God on his side. Also, idolatry scenes feature prominently further linking the sacred past with the Capetian present since King Louis IX prepared for his own journey to Israel to fight the Muslim ‘infidels’ for their ‘idolatry’ worship of Muhammad. Royal lineage of God’s chosen leader of the secular world is further reinforced by the image of the Jesse Tree in which the Bible states, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding” (Isaiah 11:1-4). Thus, Jesse’s genealogy is displayed in a family tree which includes the Virgin and Christ. In each register a king is situated between branches and is flanked on both sides by Prophet figures.  Through the image of the Jesse Tree, the Old Testament kings foreshadow the figure of Christ while King Louis IX represents the inheritance of this religious history and his duty to prepare for the Second Coming through his role as ‘royal vicar.’ By interpreting the biblical narrative in terms of imperial lineage, King Louis strengthened his position as the new secular king of Christianity within his own Heavenly Jerusalem.
While the legitimacy of divine kingship is established through a specific interpretation of the Old Testament, the political role of Queen Blanche of Castile (Louis’s mother) is conveyed through the fusion of sacred and heraldic imagery. Although the incorporation of fleur-de-lis in the ornamental detail of the Numbers and Judah windows are a symbol of King Louis IX, the gold towers of Castile on gules  that appear above the Passion window and in the quatrefoil panels of the Book of Esther window  are a recognisable emblem of Blanche of Castile. Of importance, the Book of Esther window creates a more direct connection with Queen Blanche’s intended role as substitute monarch during King Louis’s absence. The Esther episodes depict palace intrigue as the Jewish heroine Esther saves her people from genocide through her clever interactions with the Persian king. The narrative sequence of Esther pays homage to the past and future political importance of Blanche of Castille’s since she reigned during the minority of her son and was expected to be entrusted with the kingdom again during the King’s impending Crusade.  Also, the window of the Book of Esther is strategically placed above the niche of Queen Blanche of Castille and Queen Margaret of Provence (wife of King Louis) and directly opposite the king’s niche.  Through the complex association between Capetian royal symbols and a biblical heroine, King Louis clearly indicated that Queen Blanche was to maintain political and religious balance during his absence.
The most visible sign of the Capetian king as mediator between the secular and spiritual realm is in the depiction in one of the stained glass windows of King Louis IX as owner of the relics and consequently the Vicar of Christ. Significantly, the papal charter for the foundation of Sainte Chapelle stated that with the possession of the Crown of Thorns, Louis had been crowned with Christ’s own crown.  The religious significance of this ownership can be seen in the Kings Window in which Louis is depicted receiving the Crown of Thorns. The biblical history of the royal lineage is then brought to the present as the relics are depicted as being purchased by King Louis IX in the kingdom of Grace. In positioning the Kings window before the final scene of the Second Coming, King Louis IX visually conveyed his role as current leader to an apocalyptic utopianism (However, since the panels of the Kings episodes were restored during the 19th century, it is difficult to analyse the accuracy of the visual evidence in regards to religious propaganda.  Another assertion of King Louis’s IX Christian importance occurs at the south wall in which yet another parallel is created comparing Solomon and Louis IX. The two kings are juxtaposed in adjacent rose window where their themes complement one another; while Solomon defies God by worshipping false idols, Louis affirms God by worshipping the Passion relics. Again the complex message created both affirms Louis’s biblical ancestry while justifying his reason for the Crusade.
Not only did the construction of Sainte Chapelle (1244-1248) function as the new reliquary for the Passion relics, but is also revealed King Louis’s IX developing personification of divine kingship. The palatine chapel’s design as a shrine turned inward with symbolic allusion the Solomon’s Temple made Paris the new epicentre of Christianity. Further, the narrative of the stained glass windows legitimised King Louis’s IX rule as being crucial to the faith of his kingdom. The Capetian King’s close relationship with God and his duty as Christ’s vicar on earth is made clear by representing a royal lineage originating from the Old Testament. Following in the footsteps of the Biblical leaders who battled against idolatry, King Louis IX justified his intended Crusade to protect the ancient Promise Land. Thus, the artistic programme of Sainte Chapelle can be understood as a royal manifesto, which unified the Biblical past, the Capetian present and the intended future success of the Crusades.
© Courtney Ahlstrom 2014
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 C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral, London, 1990, 120.
 Ibid., 317.
 L. Papanicolaou, ‘Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours: The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 15, 1980, 53.
 C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral, London, 1990, 309.
 J. Leniaud and F. Perrot, The Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 2007, 54.
 C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral, London, 1990, 315.
 J. Leniaud and F. Perrot, The Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 2007, 169.
 C. Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral, London, 1990, 315.
 J. Leniaud and F. Perrot, The Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 2007, 141.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid., 170.
 Ibid., 169.
 Ibid., 169.
 L. Papanicolaou, ‘Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours: The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s’, Metropolitan Museum Journal, 15, 1980, 63.
 J. Leniaud and F. Perrot, The Sainte Chapelle, Paris, 2007, 317.