While analyzing the impacts of various lieux de mémoire in Paris, and the rituals associated to different monuments, I tried to remember what monuments left the greatest impact in my own memory. The first one that came to my mind is the Holy Chapel situated on the Ile de la Cité. I must have been around 10 when I visited it with my parents, and even though I have never returned to it since, this particular chapel left a fadeless souvenir in my mind. The chapel is separated in two spaces: the lower one that, in my eyes of child, looked like any other church I have seen before, and the upper one, made of multi-color and almost magical stained-glass windows. I remember being filled with wonder and astonishment when reaching the second floor of the church; as if I attained a secret and sacred place that I was the only one to know about.
I believe this is the essence of memorization and visual culture. It’s having your breathe taken away by a monument that infuse yourself with all its history and beauty. I long cherished this memory before taking an interest into the real significance and purpose of this chapel. I finally realized that its history is very much linked to the idea of memorization and keeping secrets.
Indeed, the Holy Chapel was initially destined to receive the relics of Christ’s crucifixion. Saint Louis bought fragments of the crown of thorns and fragments of the Holy cross in 1239. He wanted to reunite the relics under a same roof. In order to host these relics, Saint Louis needed a specific venue. The erection of the Holy Chapel is not only a religious act but a political one as well; indeed, it is constructed in the middle of the City Palace (today the Law Courts). It is therefore interesting that a sacred religious space is located at the center of a political center. The division of the Chapel is made according to the protection of the relics: the lower level was reserved to the parish cult and the upper one held safe the relics.