In my Cup last week about Pointe du Hoc I said that it was one of two sights on the choir pilgrimage to France last month of which I had not previously heard. The other was Sainte Chapelle (Holy Chapel). Built in just six years, between 1242 and 1248, it was the chapel for the exclusive use of the king and his family and friends. It is almost completely non-descript from the outside now, tightly surrounded as it is by government buildings, but inside, Oh my. On first seeing its stained glass windows, they just took my breath away. I would not have thought that such a high ratio of glass to supporting stone would have been structurally possible. The windows go all the way around, from the tops of the arches to almost floor level and tell the stories of the bible from Genesis to the Apocalypse. The chapel is almost tiny as Gothic churches go, but it is magnificent. I’m sure you can Google Sainte Chapelle and see it in all its glory, so I won’t try to describe it any further. But I did take away a couple of impressions. Well, one actually, but formed from a couple of observations.
The first was the upper chapel, lower chapel, aspect. Only the king and his family and friends were allowed to enter the upper chapel. The palace staff were relegated to a small sparse lower level.
The second was the story of Blanche, Queen of Navarre, the mother of one of the kings. According to the information card, Blanche’s seat in the chapel was in front of the window depicting the Book of Esther. You see, Blanche equated herself with Esther because Esther saved the Jewish people from extermination at the hand of the evil Haman and Blanche saved the throne for her son. The royal family considered themselves the spiritual descendents of the Old Testament kings.
Even though it was still 500 years in the future, I could see in this arrogance the seeds of the causes of the discontent that would send Blanche’s descendents to the guillotine.
Lord, save us from arrogant rulers and from the arrogance that infects our own hearts..
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 11-August-2015.