It was one of those grey, drizzly Sundays and a perfect chance to take a walk in the gentle rain before retreating to the comfort of home. It was also an ideal day to set out and pay a visit to the only remaining structure of the Capetian’s palace – La Sainte-Chapelle. Its austere, svelte Gothic architecture certainly belies a more elaborate and generous interior design: ornate floors, brilliant frescoes and wall design and intricate stained glass windows. Apparently, its stained glass windows are the most impressive still-surviving ones of the age. Like almost all other major religious buildings in the city, it was not left untouched by the revolution and is therefore something of a massive work of restoration.
While today it poses as a monument – which was overcrowded today I must say – in better times it was built to house Louis IX impressive collection of relics which was reported to include the crown of thorns among other things. Now, one could question the veracity of the claims of the royals to holding souvenirs from the curifixion of Christ but it is clear that the relics and the chapel played much more than just a religious role. It is hard to miss the royal symblogy in the chapel and embedded into the scenes of the staineg glass windws. And it is clear from these that the chapelle served as a means of conferring legitimacy and political authority to Louis and the royals. It makes sense. France at the time would have been holding firmly to politicalpower where constantinople and Aachen has hit more difficult times. So, part from being a house of a collection of relics – and indeed the place of prayer for Louis – it is also an interesting place to get insight into the role that religion played in conferring legitimacy and authority at the time.
Things have changed a lot since then. Fewer people have much of a clue about organised religion. To a much lesser degree is religion viewed as the primary source for political legitimacy in a post-post Christian France. Whether that is a good thing or not is something best left to locals to ponder upon.What is clear is that the echoes to france’s past such as this seem to suggest a grandeur that is quite hard to detect when one hears Nicolas Sarkozy decides to mumble ” casse toi pauvre con” or other such sentiments. One gets the sense that a lot has changed since the days of Louis IX.On his part; Louis IX is reported to have written to his son, Jean de Joinville : “To keep right and justice be thou righteous and steady with thy people, without turning to the right hand or to the left, but straight forward”. Quite a different time and tone.
At the samee time, as a student in Paris receiving an enlightening and liberal education, it is also perhaps safe to say it is not such a bad thing that things have changed. The very fact that I can be critical in a counry zhere I should be minding my ozn business is testa,ent to the many advantages that republican – in the French sense – values have zought.