Expiatory Chapel, 75008 Paris

A tiny museum in the center of Paris, just a few minutes walk along the road from Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, the Expiatory Chapel was created during restoration of the monarchy (1814 – 1824) at the wish of Louis XVIII, eager to revive the memory of the royal family though this site has a macabre history. The site of the former Madeline cemetery that opened in 1721, during the reign of Terror and was the burial ground of those executed between 1792 and 1794 and the original resting ground of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette. Their remains were transferred to Saint Denis Basilica then on January 21st, 1815 the anniversary date of the death of Louis VXI, first stone of the Expiatory Chapel was laid, the building completed in 1826 during the reign of Charles X.

The chapel has been the subject of fierce political debate and several times came under the threat of demolition, as it was perceived as a relic from the Ancien Regime. Thankfully, the threats to demolish were unsuccessful and the building was listed as a historic monument in 1914.

Passing through the entrance pavilion into the raised garden, the Campo Santo is hallowed ground, composed of excavated material and remains from the former cemetery. The rows of gravestones that line each side are symbolic and represent the Swiss guards who lost their lives on August 10th 1792 when the king was arrested at the Tuileries. The intricate carvings of poppy heads, cypress and oak branches in the crowns indicate that the victims of the Revolution came from all classes of society.

Inside the chapel are white marble statues representing Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. An angel supports the kings’ statue with his Will engraved into black marble on the pedestal. On the opposite side of the room is the queen kneeling before Religion and her last letter to Madame Elisabeth, the kings’ sister is engraved in the marble and makes an extremely moving tribute.

Downstairs is the crypt where the black marble alter in the form of a tomb marks the place where the kings’ body was exhumed.

The chapel is situated in a small tree filled grassy garden, ‘square Louis XVI’ to which access is free and is a perfect venue for a sunny day lunchtime picnic.