I’ll continue my travel narrative here…and keep reading to find a patchwork connection!
Nothing can quite prepare you for Paris’s Sainte Chapelle. Many have referred to it as a “jewel” – quite apt, as you’ll see if you keep reading. You will find it nestled among the city’s halls of justice on an island in the middle of the Seine River, just a stone’s throw away from the much more popular Notre Dame Cathedral. Amazingly, the chapel is perfectly preserved in the heart of this bureaucratic complex.
When you first enter Sainte Chapelle, you step into the “lower chapel,” a dark space with a handful of stained glass windows and numerous columns covered with peeling paint. A statue of St. Louis (minus hands) presides over it all. The mood is mystical, a bit magical. I stood for a while taking photos of the paint, the stone, and the windows, getting a sense for the place.
(I should note that the elaborate painting was done in the 19th century during a restoration. Not sure how well it represents what medieval people saw, but it lends a great aura to this sacred space.)
Then it was time to ascend the spiral staircase.
I confess to feeling claustrophobia in small windowless spaces, and a very narrow spiral staircase is one thing I truly dread. I rushed my daughters forward to climb as fast as I could out of there. I was rewarded at the top with a jaw-dropping sight: dozens of immense stained glass windows, nearly floor to ceiling blue and red… light pouring through the colored glaze and right onto my amazed face. I could see why this was the king’s chapel, his holy place, and why it has been venerated ever since the 12th century. I stared and I turned around to keep staring and I just did not want to leave.
Tour groups came and went, using headsets with tour guides leading in Japanese, Spanish. I still kept turning my head, craning to see individual panes depicting biblical scenes. My husband and kids found folding chairs and had a seat while I gaped and snapped away with my camera.
It is an often-heard cliche to call the chapel a “gem” or a “jewel” – though still very apt. The glass really does look like a series of rubies and sapphires.
After a few more minutes, just when we thought of leaving, the sun came out outside and truly illuminated the glass, just like one of those brilliant medieval manuscript paintings minus the gold leaf. Stunning. In the clouds, however, the panes looked just as good and perhaps even more mysterious, more blue.
All these gorgeous colors make me think about some patchwork I recently completed that corresponds to its brilliant blue and rich red. Though it could never actually hold a candle to this chapel, here it is:
Batiks are sometimes used for “stained glass” quilts, I believe, because they convey that look of mottled sun and shadow passing through a pane of glass. Much more than a solid color, they offer the depth of different degrees of saturation.
My contemporary pattern mimics the “window” effect also, with small squares of lighter red-orange in each block. The blocks go together very quickly, making it an easy weekend project.
To keep things simple, this patchwork table runner is not quilted. It’s backed with plaid flannels that I had in my stash, which should help it stay put on the table. I am planning to use it this fall to brighten the darkening days. And it will offer me a glimmer of a memory of my trip to Sainte Chapelle, too.