Near the altar there is a side chapel, to which access is had from below. Here Louis XI. used to come, amid the choicest relics, and say his prayers. Some of the relics are still preserved, and consist of a crown of thorns, a piece of the cross upon which Christ was crucified, and many antique gems. The Chapelle and the relics cost Louis two millions eight hundred thousand francs—the relics alone costing an enormous amount.
There was a richly endowed chapter in connection with the Chapelle and what is a little singular, the head of it became renowned for his litigous disposition. The poet Boileau, in Lutrin, satirized this character—and was, after death, buried in the lower chapel.
At the time of the great revolution, this ancient and beautiful building escaped destruction by its conversion by the government into courts of justice. The internal decorations were, however, many of them destroyed. The church, as it exists now, in a state of complete restoration, is one of the finest church interiors in Paris, and the best specimen of its peculiar kind of architecture in the world.
My friend was a little surprised at the enthusiasm I manifested. He seemed to look as coolly upon the exquisite architectural beauty, and to contemplate the age of the building as quietly, as a farmer would survey his promising wheat-field. I reminded him that I came from a land where such things do not abound, and where one cannot gratify the desire to look upon that which is not only ancient, but around which cluster the choicest historical associations.
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While wandering one day though the Rue d’Anjou St. Honore, I came unexpectedly upon one of the most beautiful chapels my eyes ever beheld—the Chapelle Expiatore. It was originally a burial-ground in connection with the Madeleine church, but was afterward set apart to commemorate the sad fate of the elder Bourbons. When Louis XVI. and his queen were executed, in 1793, they were obscurely buried on this spot. A friend, M. Descloseaux, at once cared for their remains, else they would have been lost amid other victims of the bloody revolution. It is a singular fact, that Danton, Herbert, and Robespierre were also buried in this same place, together with the Swiss Guard.
An early entry in the parish records of the Madeleine, still shows to any one who has the curiosity to see, the plainness with which the queen was buried. It is as follows: “Paid seven francs for a coffin for the Widow Capet.”
M. Descloseaux watched carefully over the graves of the king and queen, purchased the place containing their bodies, and converted it into an orchard, with the view of shielding them from the fury of the populace. His plan was successful, and it is said that he sent every year a beautiful bouquet of flowers to the duchess d’Angouleme, which were gathered from the ground beneath which her royal parents were sleeping.