Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guest post from Susie Kelly


Having read, enjoyed and reviewed Susie Kelly’s book The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette where she cycles from Versailles, east through Paris and along the Marne Valley, following the route taken by Marie Antoinette, see here, I thought it would be nice to ask her to do a Paris related guest post as part of Paris week. I was delighted she agreed, and here it is, over to you Susie.

“Although we have lived in la France profonde for seventeen years, we only visited Paris for the first time three years ago. 
Did it live up to our expectations? No, not really. 
It surpassed them. Every corner offered a new and beautiful view. 
It was something of a whistle-stop tour, as we had less than two days to spend. One place I particularly wanted to see was the Conciergerie, and the entrance ticket included a visit to La Sainte Chapelle just a few metres away. I'll be completely honest, I'm not religious, I'd never heard of it and I imagined a dim and musty little place that would warrant five minutes of my time. The only reason I went there was because I had paid for the ticket.
The little Gothic chapel was commissioned in the 13th century by pious King Louis IX to house what he believed to be Christ's crown of thorns and a relic from the cross, bought for an extortionate price from the Byzantine emperor. 
If "Gothic" conjures up a picture of grim austerity, there is nothing of that in this enchanting church. It’s Aladdin's cave and Blackbeard's treasure chest all in one. La Sainte Chapelle is the most exquisite building I have ever seen. Breathtakingly, heart-achingly, overwhelmingly, tear-jerkingly magnificent. My jaw had never spontaneously fallen open before. Until then I had thought that "open-mouthed wonderment" was an exaggeration. 
On the lower floor the vaulted blue ceilings decorated with golden heavenly bodies resemble the night sky. The supporting pillars are painted in voluptuous colours - rich red adorned with golden Castilian castles and midnight blue with golden fleurs de lys. Standing in this glorious church is a truly sensuous experience. It's so beautiful that you feel you want to break off little pieces and eat them.
When it still served as a royal church, the lesser social classes worshipped in this lower chapel, while the floor above was reserved for royalty. It was worth the momentary panic of claustrophobia to climb the narrow stone spiral staircase, because it leads into a radiant jewel-box of brilliant hues. The high walls of the chapel are formed by intricate stained glass windows separated from each other by the most slender of columns, giving the impression that the entire wall is built of one vast pane of bejewelled glass. Sunlight poured through these windows and projected lakes of coloured lozenges that danced on the floor, creating a living kaleidoscope. I could have happily sat there all day.
Earlier when we had visited Versailles, I was slightly repelled by the opulence of the palace, and yet here I was enchanted by the flamboyance of this church. In trying to rationalise these feelings I arrived at the conclusion that while Versailles is a testament to one man's power and self-glorification, La Sainte Chapelle is the expression of one man's love for his god and that is what, for me, makes all the difference. While I don't share Louis IX's beliefs, I can certainly recognise and appreciation his devotion to them."

Thank you Susie, somewhere I haven’t visited, but will add to the list for next time. Susie forgot her camera, but to see some images just click here. If you would like to read more from Susie and her exploits in and around Paris (by bike) I can recommend The Valley Of Heaven And Hell - Cycling In The Shadow Of Marie Antoinette available online at Amazon.