Authored by Cynthia Turner Camp and Georgia Earley from data collected by Jessica Roberts, Sarah Landry, Jasmine Paxon, and Meg Dominey.

 

In 1242-1248, King Louis IX of France — canonized after his death as Saint Louis — built a chapel, Sainte-Chapelle, within the royal complex on the Île de la Cité on the Seine River in central Paris. The chapel was designed to house the many relics of Christ that Louis collected, including a piece of the True Cross, some of the blood of Christ, and most notably the Crown of Thorns (Bottineau 67-68). After Louis’ death and canonization, his head was transferred to Sainte-Chapelle and kept there as a relic (52). Sainte-Chapelle was part of the royal palace complex through the fourteenth century, at which point the Palais de la Cité became the administrative headquarters for the crown; the chapel, however, remained at the heart of royal displays of piety. It stands today as one of the great monuments of French Gothic architecture, and its thirteenth-century stained glass windows as an artistic gem in the heart of Paris.

Like many cathedrals and major monasteries that housed famous relics, Sainte-Chapelle celebrated its relics with special services on specific days of the year. A calendar which includes all those special feast days is considered to be of the Use (or customs) of Sainte-Chapelle. The calendar which opens the Hargrett Hours (fols. 1r-6v) includes distinctive Sainte-Chapelle feasts: the dedication of the chapel; translation of St. Louis’s head; the susception (or receiving) of relics; and the feasts of the Holy Cross, the Crown of Thorns, and the Exaltation of the Cross. This series of feasts indicates that the Hargrett Hours was produced for use at, or within the religious influence of, Sainte-Chapelle.

Several features beyond the calendar suggest that the manuscript accords with the spiritual interest of Sainte-Chapelle. The seven auxiliary prayers are distinctively focused on the Passion of Christ, and the emphasis of the first three on the Crown of Thorns becomes thematically suggestive of the book’s affiliation with Sainte-Chapelle. Although the suffrages do not include Saint Louis among them, they do include the Parisian saints Genevieve and Fiacre. Finally, the traditional affiliation of the Long Hours of the Passion with Saint Louis may also signal the manuscript’s affinity with Sainte-Chapelle.

Future classes will finalize the calendar’s Sainte-Chapelle features and deepen our understanding of the relationship of the Hargrett Hours to Sainte-Chapelle, with particular attention to the potential emotional and somatic experience of praying its prayers within the chapel’s distinctive and awe-inspiring space.

Bibliography

Bottineau, Yves. Notre-Dame De Paris and the Sainte-Chapelle. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967.

Leniaud, Jean-Michel, and Françoise Perrot. La Sainte Chapelle. Paris: Nathan/CNMHS, 1991.

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