Saint-Chapelle, The Chapels


A gem of High Gothic architecture

In the centre of the Ile-de-la-Cite

The Palais de la Cite was the residence and seat of royal power from the 10th to the 14th centuries in Paris, and housed the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle which are now part of the Palace of justice, the new function of the building. I The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1242 and 1248, in accordance with the wishes of Louis IX (king from 1226 to 1270 and the future Saint Louis) to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. The most famous of these relics was the Crown of Thorns, acquired in 1239 for a sum that greatly exceeded the cost of building the Chapel itself.    

Religious and political influence

The Holy Relics had belonged to the emperors of Constantinople since the 4thcentury. In purchasing them, Louis IX added to the prestige of both France and Paris which, in the eyes of medieval Europe, became a “New Jerusalem”, and hence the second capital of Christianity. Throughout the revolutionary period, the Sainte-Chapelle, which was a symbol of royalty by divine right, suffered a great deal of damage, although the stained glass windows remained intact. From 1846 onwards, a huge wave of restoration work was carried out on the building, giving it its current appearance.

The Ile-de-la-Cite

The seat of royal power

In the 1st century BC, the Parisii, a Gallic tribe, settled on an island in the middle of the River Seine, later known as the I1e-de-la-Cite, and founded the town of Lutetia, which in the 5th century took the name of Paris. In the 6th century Clovis, the first French King, made the Palais de la Cite his royal residence. His son Childebert had Paris’s first cathedral built.

At the end of the l Oth century, Nugues Caper, the first Capetian king, established his royal council and government in the palace, which thus became the seat of royal power.

A palace deserted by its kings

In 1248, when Louis IX signed the deed foun­ding the Sainte-Chapelle, the nearby Cathedral of Notre-Dame already had its current facade. In 1358, the advisors to King john II (The Good) were assassinated before the eyes of the Dauphin, the future Charles V, who once he became king decided to move to better protected premises, firstly the Hotel Saint-Pol, one of his Paris residences (no longer standing), then to the Louvre and Vincennes. The royal government, Parliament, Chancery and the Chamber of Accounts remained in the Capetian palace for a while, but as the centuries passed only the law courts and prison stayed on.

Nowadays, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie are the only visible remains of the oldest palace of the kings of France.

Two sanctuaries, one on top of the other

From the beginning, the relics were displayed and worshipped in the upper chapel. Only the king, his close friends and family, and the canons leading the services entered it via the outdoor terrace, which at the time was connected to the Palace. The lower chapel was the place of worship for the palace staff.

The basilica-type layout with a semi-circular apse was very simple. It was to be used as a model for other Holy Chapels, including those of Vincennes and Chateaudun.

The lower chapel

Visitors are greeted by a statue of the Virgin Mary, the sanctuary’s patron saint, at the portal. Inside, the polychrome decoration, like the carved decoration in the porch, dates back to the 19th­century restoration work. In the apse on the left, above the door to the former sacristy, is a 13th­century fresco depicting the Annunciation. This is the oldest wall painting in Paris.

The low vault is held up by openwork struts linking the aisle columns to the lateral walls. These walls are decorated with blind trefoil arcatures and 12 medallions featuring the apostles. The vaults’ fleur-de-lvson an azure background are also found on the columns, alternating with the towers on a purple background which were the arms of Queen Blanche of Castile, Louis IX’s mother.

The Upper Chapel

This is a truly monumental and sumptuously decorated reliquary. Sculptures and windows combine harmoniously to glorify the Passion of Christ and create a feeling of entry into the Heavenly jerusalem, bathed in light and colour. The Sainre-Chapelle owes much of even its early fame to its stained glass windows.

The 1,113 scenes depicted in the 15 stained glass windows tell the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection. Fourteen of the windows, depicting episodes from the bible, should be read from left to right, from the bottom upwards.

I The window telling the story of the relics of the Passion is the only one to he read houstro­phedonicall. In the lower part of the lights, it illustrates the tale of the relics, from their discovery bv Saint Helen in Jerusalem to their arrival in the kingdom of France.

2 The Statue of Saint Peter is the original, as are 5 other apostle statues. He is holding the keys to heaven. The statues of the 12 apostles, the “pillars of the Church” are symbolically arranged in the nave on the ribbed vault’s springing line. Thev typify the harmony and idealised faces of Parisian sculpture in the years between 1240 and 1260.

3 The great shrine containing the 22 relics” of the Passion of Christ, including the fragment of the Holy Cross and the Crown of Thorns, used to be displayed on the gallery but was melted down during the Revolution. The remaining relics are now kept in the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre-Darne de Paris.

4 The western rose illustrates the prophetic Apocalypse of St John, symbolically represented opposite the Passion of Christ in the choir’s central stained glass window. In the centre of the rose, Christ returns in glory at the end of Time to judge the dead and the living.

The 100 foliage-decorated capitals along the lateral walls are all different. The angels on the corner pieces of the arcatures echo the 42 martyr scenes featured in the quatrefoils.

Saint Bernadette’s Body in Nevers

Saint Bernadette’s body reposes in a glass casket in the Chapel of the Sisters in Nevers, France. Travel between Lourdes and Nevers has never been rapid however, and in 1866 Bernadette took three days to make the journey, passing via Bordeaux and Perigueux.

The Sisters were present in Nevers well before Bernadette was born. At the invitation of the Mayor and the Cur6, with the agreement of the Prefect and the bishop, they arrived in Nevers in 1834. The renown of the Congrega­tion reached as far as Lourdes through the gossip of some pious persons.

The Congregation had been founded in 1680 by a Benedictine, Jean-Baptiste Delaveyne, the Cure of a parish in the diocese of Nevers. The Sisters of Charity and Christian instruction of Nevers were devoted principally to children and the sick, and in particular the destitute.

In Lourdes they were therefore called to look after the Hospice and the girls’ school. A special class was opened for the children of families without resources. In was to this class that Bernadette was admitted when she returned from Bartres in January 1858. She could neither read nor write despite her 14 years.

Rumours of the apparitions quickly spread into the school and the Sisters could be no other than severe with this gamine about whom these extraordi­nary stories abounded.

The day after the second apparition, 15th February, is a Monday: a bad day for schoolchildren! It is worse for Bernadette: the Superior says to her: “Have you finished your playacting!”. It must be said that the next day is “Mardi Gras”. Just like the priests of the parish the Sisters are forbidden to go to the Grotto.

Despite these difficult beginnings, Bernadette will never leave the Sisters of Nevers. She will be accepted as a boarder with a double status: that of pupil and a sick destitute. She was sick enough to receive Extreme Unction, as it was called at that time. Destitute, she wished to remain.

The Cure had insisted that Berna­dette should stay at the Hospice to protect her from popular curiosity. This step was only partly successful. The Sisters were now happy to have such an important boarder. All the more so that she retained her disarming simplicity and her gifts manifested themselves much amongst the sick – even the most revolting, as among the children.

What would become of Bernadettc? She was only 14 vears old. She could well be ;een as a Carmelite but her health would not permit it. Various Congregations wcxvld like to have recruited her, but she did not see herself among them. Neither the Chaplain. Abbe Pomian, whom she had confided in from 13″ Februarv 1858, nor the Sisters, exerted any pressure on her.

The decisive meeting took place in September 186s. Mgr Fourcade, bishop of Nevers, on a Visit to Lourdes, wished to meet Bernadette. Would she not con­sider entering the Congregation of Ne­ver? I have no dowry and I don’t know how to do anything. she says. For the dowry, exceptions can be made. So far as knowing nothing: it is not true: I saw you peeling carrots, replied the prelate. Bernadette decided: “I love the poor, I like looking, after the sick. I shall stay with the Sisters of Never ‘s.

One year later Bernadette was received as a postulant whilst still remaining in Lourdes for another two years. In 1866 ,, she arrived in Nevers with two other postulants. Another year passed and she was professed but her health prevented her from going where she would like to have gone in accordance with the charisma of the Congregation: to the sick,  the poor and the children. On that clay the bishop gave her the “work of prayer”.

The Superior and Mistress of Novices were rather severe in their dealings with Bernttdette. It was the practice at the time, and they wished to protect Bernadette against any temptation to vanity; it was a useless exercise given Bernadette’s temperament. The Superior was never convinced of the authenticity of the Ap­paritions, and after Bernadette’s death she blocked all attempts to open the process of beatification.

For thirteen years Bernadette lived the charisma of the Congregation: Deus caritas est. She was an excellent nurse: competent, smiling, comforting, despite her own ailments, more and more severe. With the agreement of her superiors she also became the confidante and support of the younger Sisters, clarifying their vocations, along with all those who came to visit her.

Bernadette died in Nevers on the Wed­nesday after Easter, 16th’ April 1879. Her body stayed in Nevers because she had said, under no circumstances would she return to Lourdes to eclipse the Blessed Virgin.

The Cathedral of Burgos

An admirable and glorious work of christian art. It was founded by King Fernando III the Saint and Bishop D. Mauricio. On July 20, 1221 they placed the first stone. Nine years later they celebrated the first mass; and forty years later, they consecrated it. Its works lasted, appro­ximately, about 400 years.

There is not any news of the first architect. It is attributed to the master Enrique, followed by Juan Perez and Pedro Sanchez.

The Cathedral is dedicated to the mystery of the Ascent of the Virgin to Heaven. It can be seen that Burgos was one of the first cities in the world that de­dicated their Cathedrals to this mystery.

Already in the XI century, when the Cid was departing for his exile, upon saying good-bye to Burgos, asked for the protection from the Virgin calling her Glorious Saint Mary. This trial that the old romanic Cathedral, which Alfonso VI ordered to be built, was also dedicated to the Ascent.

This Cathedral was sadly destroyed in order to level the ground and build on top the actual one. Until now there do not exist any other memories than some dis­played spires in the cloister, found in the excavations which were made upon installing the heating.

San Juan de los Reyes Monastery, Toledo


San Juan de los Reyes Monastery was commissioned by the Catholic Monarchs in the town of Toledo, to honour the victory in the town of Toledo, to honor the Battle of Toro in 1476.  This battle put an end to the War of the  Succession in favour of Princess Isabel, sister of late King Enrique IV. They were fighting against the supporters of Juana, daughter of the king’s illegitimate marriage. At first the architecture and decoration were designed for the monarchs’ tombs, years before conquering Granada, which is where they were buried in the end. As they were very devoted to the Franciscan Order, they decided to give the monastery to the observant Franciscan monks.

The architect Juan Guas, from Brittany, was chosen for the design and construction Spanish-Flemish Gothic style or the Gothic of the Catholic Monarchs, a fusion of Flamboyant Gothic from Flanders, with Mudejar, that was developed in Castilla. Juan Guas died and Enrique Egas replaced him to finish the cloister. The construction works started in 1477 and ended at the beginning of the sixteenth century.

A fire during the French invasion in 1808 destroyed the origi­nal altarpiece, the important library and community building that had another plateresque cloister. After the seizure of church property in the nineteenth century, the cloister was given to the Monument Commission to set up a museum. At the end of the nineteenth century, the architect Arturo M6lida carried out a subjective Neo-Gothic restoration project, with traces of historicist Romanticism. In 1954 the building was given back to the Franciscans and in 1977 church life was restored.

The single nave with side chapels between the buttresses is covered by very complex cross vaults. The crossing does not protrude at ground level and it’s covered by a star vault. As the monarchs’ tombs were going to be kept here, the place is decorated as a great tapestry with repetitive images of saints and the coat of arms of Spain with St John the Evangelist’s eagle, under two lions facing each other, which is a symbol of royalty. The lion and castle symbolise the kingdom of Castilla and the bars symbolise the kingdom of Aragon, which also owns the kingdom of Sicily, which is represented by the eagles with crowns. Underneath are the symbols of the yoke and the arrows to symbolise the union of kingdoms. The chancel is decorated with an altarpiece from the old Santa Cruz Hospital. The sculptor was Felipe Bigamy and the painter was Francisco de Comohtes, both from the mid-sixteenth century. It depicts scenes from the Passion and the Resurrection, as well as two original scenes from Santa Cruz Legend: the invention or discovery of the Cross by St Helena.

The cloister has a garden, little paradise on earth and hortus conclusus or enclosed garden, an allegory of Mary’s virginity. The ground floor is covered with German cross vaults, where the ribs do not cross in the centre. There is an array of figures of saints and between them there are ribbons with plant motifs and animal motifs dragons, apes, fantastic birds… by toledan sculptor Cecilio Bejar in twentieth cen­tury. The Renaissance steps, designed by Covarrubias, take us to the top floor where four halls start with mixed line arches and continue with nineteenth-century wooden ceilings. The stone archs shows the Tanto monta currency which refers to Alexander the Great when he arrived in Gordion, where a yoke with a complicated knot symbolised the promise to conquer the East. Alexander cuts the knot with his sword and exclaims: ‘tanto monta’, which means, ‘it makes no difference’. This cu­rrency shows that the king and queen ruled on equal terms in each of their kingdoms.

On the outside, the rectangular building is surrounded by ver­tical pinnacles to look like a catafalque surrounded by funeral torches. The polygonal apse at the front and the powerful white stone figures of pages carrying the kingdom’s arms have recovered their splendour after the la­test restoration. Chains and shackles hang from the outside walls in remembrance of the Christians in Granada who were held captive. In 1494 the Queen ordered them to be hung there as trophy of pain and triumph. The main entrance for visitors today is crowned with an amazing Spanish­Flemish group of sculptures: the Cross with a pelican, bird that pecks at its own breast to feed its babies with its own flesh and blood. It has there­fore been considered an image of Christ’s sacrifice.

Monastery of Santa Maria De Veruela

Veruela, the Oldest Cistercian Monastery in Aragon, Spain

Veruela is situated in a small valley formed by the River Huecha, which has its source very close to the monastery, and is sheltered by the mythical mount Moncayo. The oldest surviving document which mentions the founding of the monastery dates back to 1 145 when the ground at Veruela was donated for the construction of a Cistercian monastery. This religious order was founded in France in 1098 by Roberto de Molesmes who wished to re-establish the original austerity of the fifth century Benedictine order. Molesmes later retired to Citeaux, near Dijon, . Shortly afterwards, Saint Bernard founded Claraval, taking on a monumental spreading and doctrinal task. In Aragon, great orders were established, notably Veruela (1145 or 1146), Rueda (1153) and Piedra (1194), all of which are found in the province of Zaragoza. These religious orders fomented new cultural, spiritual and religious values and brought economic and political advantages. The roturadores (plowmen), as the Cistercian monks were known, due to their economic and agricultural influence, organised their abbeys into real hubs of activity, by ploughing uncultivated land or territorial borders thus regenerating depopulated or sparsely populated areas, both of which are typical of the Veruela region. Controlled water resource management was necessary and thus the Verolense monks set up a wide-ranging network of irrigation channels, weirs and windmills around the Huecha river basin.

The construction of the monastery must have been sufficiently advanced for the community to move there in 1171. Work on the church continued for another two hundred and fifty years. The end result is sparten, with few sculptured ornaments – in keeping with the doctrine of Saint Bernard – However, the cathedral style proportions and craftsmanship demonstrate the extensive financial \resources of the monastery. High returns maintained a large and undiminishing monk community and alll, veel-for continual improvements and extensions to the monastery. Thus, between 1472 and 1617, the Verolense abbots were appointed by the king and no longer by the Cistercian order. Great abbots from this period were Hernando de Aragon (1535 – 1539), grandson of Ferdinand the Catholic, who later became the Archbishop of Zaragoza, and his good friend and successor, Lope Marco (1539 – 1560).

Under the governance of the Cistercian Brotherhood of the Crown of Aragon, created in 1617, the abbots held office for a period of four years until the event of the abolition of monastic orders when church land was sold off. This political change coincided with one of the largest expansion programmes of the monastery, the construction of the new monastery (XVII-XVIII) incorporating individual cells for the monks (around sixty-five cells).

The Becquer family in Veruela

The selling off of land under Mendizabal in 1835 led to the abandonment of the Monastery of Veruela which had been in irreversible decline since the beginning of the century. The Madrid Central Commission for Artistic Monuments (Cornision central de Monumentos Artisticos de Madrid) insisted on the conservation of the monastery, saving it from destruction. Since then it has been the destination for countless romantics, amongst others, the Becquer brothers Between April 1877 and 1973, the jesuits took up residence here, and used the building for training purposes It was declared a national monument in 1919 and became a listed building in 1928. In 1976 the Spanish Directorate General for Fine Arts granted the Provincial Council of Zaragoza permission to preserve and renovate the building Several hundred million pesetas was invested over a sustained period of more than twenty years. In 1998 Veruela became the property of the Provincial Council of Zaragoza which continues to oversee the restoration works and has initiated a cultural development programme.

Following the selling off of the land in 1835, Veruela became a summer retreat for determined travellers who went to study rocks or enjoy the natural beauty spots at Moncayo where according to a saying dating back to 1861   All ailments are cured by the air in Veruela        The poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and his brother, the painter Valeriano enjoyed an extended stay in Veruela with their families between December 1863 and July 1864. During this perod, Gustavo Adolfo wrote a series of nine letters known collectively as Desde mi celda (From my cell), written for Madrid’s daily newspaper El Contemporaneo (published between May and October 1864) and Valeriano, who returned to Veruela in August 1865, produced various drawings and water colours, notably Expedicion de Veruela (Columbia University, New York). The poet was already familiar with the area as his wife came from Noviercas in the Sorian area of Moncayo and the Moncayo landscape inspired many of his most famous works such as El monte de las animas (1861), El gnomo and La corza blanca ( 1863)

As a result of their stay in the monastery of Veruela, the two brothers prepared a series of articles on Veruela and its people, written by Gustavo Adolfo and illustrated by Valeriano Becquer s articles published between 1865 and 1869 and his brother Valeriano’s paintings show their interest in anthropology.