The Île de la Cité is a small island located in the Seine, settled right in the center of Paris. Île de la Cité is one of 2 of the remaining natural islands on the river and is home to a cluster of small delights. For instance, the Flower Market is here and bursting with a rainbow of splashy flowers, fragrant lemon and orange trees dripping with fruit, and dozens of little baubles and trinkets such as tiny blown glass animals for sale. The oldest bridge in Paris also spans the river here: la Pont Neuf, which means “the new bridge” is anything but new. Built under the reign of Henri III, la Pont Neuf can usually be found covered with street artists and performers showing off their skill, and offers a beautiful view of the river below.
However, Île de la Cité also holds two true jewel boxes within her arms. Notre Dame Cathedral and Sainte-Chapelle both rest here, and were our first two stops on todays trek through the Latin Quarter of Paris. Both of these beloved sites made quite an impression on the travelers, especially so with Sainte-Chapelle.
Sainte-Chapelle is a medieval Gothic chapel built around the mid-1200s. Louis IX ordered its building as use for his royal chapel, and as a home to precious relics, most notably the a crown of thorns. It is also famous for the stunningly crafted stained glass windows which are soaring, ethereal beauties pieced together with a kaleidoscope of colors and portraying scenes from Old Testament books. When first walking into the upper level where these windows loom, I was absolutely shocked by the view. The morning sun was streaming in through the hundreds of panels and lighting up the royal blues, scarlets, golds, and purples, and these colors poured across the room like liquid. The windows reach all the way to the ceiling, which is dotted with stars. 12 large stone statues of the the 12 Apostles, each one poised atop a large base and gazing out over the heads of those below. At the front of the chapel, the large gold reliquary stands, adorned with angels.
Shelley Grubbs, traveler and nursing student, became very passionate talking about her experience at the chapel.
“It gave me a warm, calm, comforting feeling, and I felt safe,” Shelley said. “It was a religious experience. I’m not very religious, I’m learning to be but I’m not there yet. But when I was there, in the chapel, I felt like God was inviting me in. I felt like when I left, I had been cleansed. Like I was supposed to have been there.”
Like Shelley, I was very moved by this visit, and had a real sense of a connection to the history. The same goes for Notre Dame, the cathedral a couple blocks away from Sainte-Chapelle. I talked a bit about Notre Dame on the first day in Paris when we took a look inside. The cathedral continued to be an enjoyable visit, and it was nice to be able to explore it in more depth.
This time a few of us also went inside the treasury, which holds many objects of value. Some are valued for the materials of which they are made, including real gold and precious stones, and some for the men who wore and used these objects. Before the Revolutionary Wars these objects were also considered backup in case crisis fell upon the land and money was desperately needed. There was also some unexpected quirks inside, such as the headless statue of Saint Dennis. The story goes that Saint Dennis walked 10 miles with his head cut off while also preaching a sermon. He is the patron saint of Paris and can be found in many places around this city, including the exterior of Notre Dame to the upper left of the main doors.
Our day in medieval Paris finished with two more shorter stops. The first was simply to view the Sorbonne, a college of the University of Paris. There is no admittance expect for its students so we kept on going to the Panthéon. Originally built as a church, the Panthéon is now a secular mausoleum. From its hilltop location the large pillared building looks down across the city with a beautiful view of the Latin Quarter humming away.
Shelley also spoke to Dr. Fell about the Panthéon and relayed a little of why this place matters to French history.
“Dr. Fell explained to us,” Shelley said, “that these philosophers [who worked here] were pretty atheist and they really didn’t believe in the idea of God; they were more into science. And that’s a huge part of the significance of the place.”
By the time the Panthéon was finished in 1789 after the ordering of its construction back in 1744, the French Revolution had occurred and it had been decided that churches were no longer as important as they once were. And now, people of high regard are placed here after death. There is an inscription which reads “AUX HOMMES LA PATRIE RECONNAISSANTE” and that translates to “THE GRATEFUL NATION RECOGNISES GREAT MEN”.
The Latin Quarter was a highly interesting and beautiful place to visit, and offers a superb look at medieval Paris and the events and people who shaped the city. Sainte-Chapelle seemed to be everyones favorite stop today, with the stained glass windows and spiritual atmosphere leaving quite the lasting effect. Amber, one of the 19-year-old travelers, says, “It wasn’t what I expected, but I loved it and would go again.”