La Chapelle Expiatoire: Dedicated to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette

   1852    2
La Chapelle Expiatoire: Dedicated to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette
The tranquil garden surrounding the Chapelle Expiatoire, just a few minutes’ walk from La Madeleine or the Galeries Lafayette, is a little haven. Its large beds of white rose bushes, its classical monument, and many benches for those who wish to sit and reflect, create a fitting mood of remembrance and regret. This site was set up by Louis XVIII soon after the restoration of the monarchy in 1815 in remembrance of those whose bodies had been hurriedly buried here after their execution in the Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde) during the French Revolution. Most particularly, Louis sought to honor his own brother and sister-in-law, Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette. Lancelot Théodore Turpin de Crissé, Mass in the Chapelle expiatoire (1835). Public domain This site, quite rural in the 18th century, was used as a cemetery for the Madeleine Church, and was the obvious choice for the grisly task of disposing of so many bodies during the French Revolution. Most of the victims were thrown into mass graves, but the king and queen were buried individually in two coffins. A lawyer who lived nearby, Pierre-Louis-Olivier Descloseaux, tried to record what was happening and he planted weeping willow trees to mark the royal graves. In 1802, when most bodies had already been transferred to the catacombs, he bought up the land and in 1814, when the monarchy was restored, he sold it to the new king, Louis XVIII. Louis had his brother and sister-in-law’s bodies transferred to the Basilique Saint Denis where the rest of France’s kings and queens were buried and he had a memorial built here to mark the spot where they had lain for 22 years. At the front is a little garden, leading through a vestibule to the memorial garden with its central pathway, flanked on either side by large beds full of white rose bushes, leading to the monument proper. This is a neo-classical building, with steps leading up to a pillared portico and then on into a domed, windowless chapel, as simply designed as it could possibly be. Inside there is minimal décor, just a marble floor, an altar at the far end and two semi-circular side chapels, containing statues of Louis and Marie-Antoinette. The colours are subdued, mainly cream, white and a little black, punctuated at the far end by the gold of the candlesticks. The whole building has been designed with a single focus: commemoration. The garden of the Chapelle Expiatoire. Photo credit: Marian Jones The white marble statue of Louis shows him looking up at an angel who is supporting him with one hand and pointing up to heaven with the other. He is mounted on a plinth and depicted as pious and dignified. The full text of his will is engraved in gold letters on a black panel on the plinth and it makes for poignant reading. It was written on Christmas Day in 1792, a month before his execution and begins “I, Louis XVI King of France, being for more than four months imprisoned with my family in the tower of the Temple at Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever, even with my family…”

Lead photo credit : The Chapelle Expiatoire. Photo credit: Marian Jones

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Bonnie Sullivan
    2022-03-24 02:19:58
    Bonnie Sullivan
    I am 81 years old, and every day I think how much I want to make one last trip to France. Over the years during my visits I have done all of the frequented tourist spots in Paris, but always anxious to spend at least a couple of days there once more. I enjoy reading Bonjour Paris so much, I hope I am able to read some stories you will write now.


    • Marian Jones
      2022-03-28 09:31:53
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, Bonnie, I'm delighted you liked this piece and that you enjoy Bonjour Paris more generally. I hope very much that you will be able to visit Paris again. As you know it well, you can take things at your own pace, with no pressure to rush around trying to see everything, and hopefully that will make it manageable for you.