The Chapelle Expiatoire, Paris!

On the nice month of August ,when all of France is in the midst of its vacation time and me getting ready for middle August to go, let me tell you about something historical, sad, and true located in Paris. I have passed by many times on foot,and once went in, was very moved to see history that can be cruel; then , I have come with the family to talk about it and history behind it.  For those interested in knowing the true France.

I like to tell you a bit about the Chapelle Expiatoire. or Expiatory Chapel or Atoning Chapel in English me think ::)

In the heart of the 8éme arrondissement, halfway between the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Church of the Madeleine, on the Place Louis XVI, (29 rue Pasquier), there is an unknown monument: the Expiatory Chapel or Chapelle Expiatoire.

Paris

Sosthène de La Rochefoucauld  duke de Doudeauville , aide-de-camp of the Count of Artois, future king Charles X(younger brother of Louis XVI), proposed first,the building of it  at the end of the year 1815, the creation of a monument atoning in memory of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette. King  Louis XVIII (middle brother of Louis XVI)  had then decided to raise at his expense a commemorative Chapel. He commanded it to Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine . The monument was built from 1815 to 1826.

Paris

The traditional manifestation of legitimate Royals of France is the annual commemorative Mass given on January 21th  for the peace  of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette at the Expiatory Chapel, whose legitimists had obtained the reopening.(The legitimists are those who claim rightful blood rights to the true king of France ,Bourbons now in line Louis XX).

A very interesting monument to discover both for its architecture, but especially for its historical interest. Built on an ancient cemetery that received hundreds of bodies during the French Revolution, witnessed said about 1343 corps, the Chapel was indeed built in the same place where King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were buried after their execution in 1793.

PAris

In 1814, the monarchy was restored to France. King Louis XVIII, freshly mounted on the throne, wishes to revive the memory of the Royal family. He decided to transfer the remains of his brother Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to the Basilica of St. Denis, and to have a atoning Chapel built on the ancient revolutionary cemetery of La Madeleine. A monument that will have a dual vocation: prayer, and Remembrance.

This monument, is indeed a true immersion in the darkest hours of the French revolution, when the terror and executions of masses triumphed over individual freedoms. Receiving every day dozens of bodies, the Madeleine was more a mass grave than a cemetery. In this place were buried the hundreds of Swiss guards massacred during the arrest of the king and his family at the Palais des Tuileries on August 10, 1792 (now there is only the Jardin des Tuileries).

Paris

The tombstones that you will see aligned on the sides of the inner garden are also symbolic tombs built in remembrance of these Swiss guards. The guillotine, installed in Place de la Concorde (then called Place de la Revolution), will later operate without interruption from May 1793 to June 1794. From the Royal family to politicians and anyone suspected of royalist conviction, all of them would face  the same fate:   Became unsanitary and harmful, it will be closed in 1794, then the bones transferred to the Catacombs of Paris in 1859.

The composition of the Expiatory Chapel is somewhat inspired by the Queen’s Convent at Versailles. From the outside, the building presents itself as a closed enclosure with a gate giving access to an elevated esplanade framed by two cloistered galleries, Petit Campo Santo, an area of isolation and recollection. In the background, a tetrastyla portico with a Doric-style pediment giving access to the Chapel. Thus the plans are in a Greek Cross, and one sees the balanced harmony born of the dome and the half-domes surrounding the cubic massif softened by the peristyle. Three vaults, in the butt of a coffered furnace and illuminated by an oculus in their upper part, contribute in  the central dome also with caissons and lace, resting on pendants. The lighting is natural, only shown by the Oculus of the vaults.

Paris

In neo-classical style, the Chapel made numerous borrowings from Roman antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for its realization. Although being a place of worship, you will also notice the discretion of Christian elements, reminding us of the main mission of this Chapel: memory. Inside, you will discover the statues representing Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. On the pedestal of Louis XVI is engraved the testament of the King written before his execution, on that of Marie-Antoinette with the last letter written to the King’s sister, Madame Elisabeth(later ,also guillotine 1794). The building houses two sculpted groups of white marble showing the sovereigns in ecstatic attitude: Louis XVI, to which an angel shows the sky, and Marie-Antoinette supported by religion. Other sculptures, are a bas-relief showing the exhumation of the King and Queen of the Madeleine Cemetery. Finally, the black and white marble altar, visible in the crypt, marks the exact location from which the King and Queen bobies were exhumed.  An unsung monument of great historical richness!

Paris

François-René de Chateaubriand said that the Expiatory Chapel  was “perhaps the most remarkable monument in Paris.” I could not argue really.

You can get there on several ways even walking from afar, I go often by car or train and walk from Saint Lazare station. You have the parking Saint Lazare off rue Saint Lazaire with entrance on 20, Rue de Rome. At the Gare Saint Lazare for many public transport choices such as  metro Saint Lazare lines 3, 12 , 13, and  14 metro Saint-Augustin, lines 3 and 9, metro Havre-Caumartin, lines  8, 12, and 14,and Bus lines 32, 43,49, 84 ,and 94.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip here are

Chapelle Expiatoire official site

Tourist office of Paris on the Chapel

National Heritage site of France on the Chapel

The Museum Pass includes the Chapel

Enjoy, the real history of France, a time to seek facts and not fake news! For the lovers and seekers of history , this is a must in Paris.  Hope you enjoy it.

And remember, happy travels, good health,and many cheers to all!!!

 

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