We almost missed it. Many people do.
It was our last morning in Paris, and we had seen everything on our list. We had one ticket left on our City Pass. Sainte Chapelle. A church. We had a little time to spare and it was near by.
Sainte Chapelle was built to house relics brought back from the Holy Land, including what was purported to be the crown of thorns worn by Christ. It was constructed at the pinnacle of the Gothic age when architects had perfected the flying buttress system to an art. Hence, the church is filled with windows. Three walls of her are very nearly windows only, beginning a few feet of the floor and soaring into the heavens, separated by only the finest ribs of support.
It is made even more dramatic by the fact that you reach it by climbing a dark, close spiral staircase. You wind your way up and up through the darkness until you are suddenly turned out into a magnificence you could never have imagined.
Standing in that place was, and still is, one of the holiest moments of my life. God was a presence that could be touched and breathed and worn there. His grandeur leaked from every pane of glass.
I have never explained that moment to my satisfaction, though I have tried. My latest attempt at giving it voice was inspired by a creative lectio experience with my beautiful friends Nita and Patsy. It is, perhaps, the closest I have come. Yet.
The steps have been hollowed out
by centuries of use. Still they spiral
upward through the dark, close
column of stone till they spill me out
into the upper chamber.
I am assaulted by color.
Jeweled windows hang
suspended from the sky.
Sunlight scatters the jewels across the floor
and in my hair
and on my skin.
And I find that I have forgotten
to breathe. And my face is wet.
And I think of poor, hungry peasants
who gave of their meager means to build
great edifices for God, and how I scorned
And I realize I would gladly starve
to stand, just once, in a place
where holiness rests
on my skin.