Chapelle Expiatoire

Located just north of Hôtel de la Marine, Musée de l’Orangerie, and the Place de la Concorde in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, the Chapelle Expiatoire is a Neoclassical monument to the memory of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette, who were buried nearby for approximately two decades. The Chapelle Expiatoire contains a chapel, crypt, courtyard, multiple sculptures honoring the monarchs, and a lovely garden.

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History of the Chapelle Expiatoire

The Chapelle Expiatoire stands today on what was once Madeleine Cemetery. The site was first used as a cemetery starting in 1722, and rose to prominence some 70 years later when it become the final resting spot for hundreds of individuals who met their ends on the guillotine during the French Revolution. In 1793, both King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette were guillotined and buried here in Madeleine Cemetery. The cemetery would close a year later when it was reported to run out of space for bodies.

In 1815, during the early days of the Bourbon Restoration, the new monarch King Louis XVIII decided to move the remains of his brother and sister-in-law to the Basilica of Saint-Denis and construct a monument to their memory on the site of the former Madeleine Cemetery. Work began on what would become the Chapelle Expiatoire in 1816 according to the plans of architect Pierre Fontaine, one of the co-designers of the Arc de Triomphe. It was completed about a decade later. In the nearly 200 years since it was established, the Chapelle Expiatoire has been modified and restored multiple times, and even threatened on occasion with demolition, but it remains to this day a monument to France’s tumultuous royal history.

Chapelle Expiatoire Highlights

The centerpiece of the Chapelle Expiatoire is of course its titular chapel. Visitors reach this moving space by climbing a set of stairs to enter the area underneath the structure’s dome. Two prominent sculptures steal the show here: one, by François Joseph Bosio (who created a quadriga for the Arc de Triomphe), depicts the fallen King Louis XVI in the act of ascending to heaven with the aid of an angel; the other shows Marie-Antoinette being held by a robed figure while kneeling before a cross, and was created by Jean-Pierre Cortot.

Beyond these sculptures is a crypt and a black-and-white marble altar that pays tribute to the spot where the bodies of the King and Queen are said to have been buried during the time they were interred here. A smaller, bas-relief sculpture by François-Antoine Gérard commemorates the act of removing the royal remains and transporting them to the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

No trip to Chapelle Expiatoire is complete without taking a bit of time to enjoy the peaceful ambiance of the attraction’s courtyard garden. This serene space has numerous benches you can sit on, and is famous for the gorgeous white roses that bloom here throughout the year.

More to See and Do at the Chapelle Expiatoire

Continue reading below for a few additional things to know as you organize your Chapelle Expiatoire outing.

•The Chapelle Expiatoire is often the site of temporary exhibitions that explore a variety of topics related to Marie-Antoinette and the French royal family of her era. These exhibitions come and go by design, but for example, a recent show held here was entitled The Only Man in the Family: The Duchess and the Duke of Angoulême. It charted the lives of Marie-Thérèse (Marie-Antoinette’s oldest child) and her husband, detailing their roles in having the Chapelle Expiatoire built.

•Most visitors to the Chapelle Expiatoire enjoy the experience by simply walking through the monument at their own pace, but if you’d like a bit more structure during your visit be advised that guided tours of the attraction are offered every Saturday at 3:00pm. These guided tours are free and depart promptly at the scheduled time from the Chapelle Expiatoire’s reception desk.

•The Chapelle Expiatoire has idiosyncratic hours of operation that are different at various points of time throughout the year, and it’s typically closed for an hour during the middle of the day. It’s also usually closed three days each week. If the Chapelle Expiatoire is on your Paris must-see list, you’re definitely going to want to plan the timing of your visit carefully in advance.

Why the Chapelle Expiatoire Should Be on Your Must-See List

A visit to the peaceful setting of Chapelle Expiatoire makes for a pleasant change of pace from the lively hustle and bustle of the large crowds that flock to many other top attractions in Paris. In many ways, the Chapelle Expiatoire is one of the city’s hidden gems—not an obscure destination by any stretch of the imagination, but one that doesn’t draw the same number of visitors as Paris attractions with bigger reputations. It’s a terrific place to experience an important piece of French history on your own terms and at a slower pace.