Chapelle Expiatoire in Paris

Show Map

The Chapelle expiatoire ("Expiatory Chapel") is a chapel located in the eighth arrondissement, of Paris, France. This chapel is dedicated to King Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette, although they are formally buried in the Basilica of St Denis.

History and construction

The chapel was designed in 1816 by the French Neo-Classical architect Pierre François Léonard Fontaine, who, with his partner Charles Percier, had recently figured among the favourite architects of Napoleon. Fontaine's assistant Louis-Hippolyte Lebas oversaw the construction. The chapel was partly constructed on the grounds of the former Madeleine Cemetery where King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette had been buried after they had been guillotined.

King Louis XVIII shared the 3 million livres expense of building the Chapelle expiatoire with the Duchess of Angoulême. Construction took ten years, and the chapel was inaugurated in 1826 in the presence of Charles X. On blessing the cornerstone of the Chapelle expiatoire, Hyacinthe-Louis de Quelen, Archbishop of Paris, called in vain for an amnesty of the exiled members of the National Convention.

Building and courtyard

The Chapelle expiatoire stands on a slight rise. There are two buildings separated by a courtyard which is surrounded by an enclosed cloister-like precinct, a peristyle, that isolates the chapel from the outside world. The building on Rue Pasquier is the entrance. There is an inscription above the entrance, which reads (translated):

In the courtyard are cenotaphs to those who were known to be buried in this location.

The chapel itself is entered through a pedimented tetrastyle portico, of a sombre Doric order. It contains a domed space at the center of a Greek cross, formed by three coffered half-domed apses with oculi, that supplement the subdued natural light entering through the skylight of the main dome. The cubic, semicylindrical and hemispheric volumes recall the central planning of High Renaissance churches, as much as they do a Greco-Roman martyrium. White marble sculptures of the king and queen in ecstatic attitudes were made by François Joseph Bosio and Jean-Pierre Cortot. There is also a bas-relief, by French sculptor François-Antoine Gérard (who also did some of the other carvings) showing the exhumation and removal of the remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to the Basilica of St Denis.

The crypt contains a black and white marble altar intended to mark the place where the royal remains were found.

The Chapelle expiatoire is without doubt the most uncompromising late neoclassical religious building of Paris. Chateaubriand found it "the most remarkable edifice in Paris". The chapel's severe geometry is unrelieved by sculpture as can be seen by the view from rue d'Anjou.

Later history

In 1862, the cypresses which surrounded the chapel were cut down, and a public park (Square Louis XVI) was created around the complex. It is a peaceful oasis in a busy city.

In May 1871 The Commune demanded that the Chapel be torn down, fortunately this was never put into effect.

Every January 21, a memorial mass is held in the chapel to commorate the death of Louis XVI.

The Chapel was severely damaged by storm in 2009.


Click on a photograph to see the original picture (much larger).

Getting there

The nearest Metro station is Saint-Augustin station.
If you also want to visit the Madeleine Church, the Madeleine station.


External links