QR Vic-le-Comte – Bourg 6
Jewel of the French Renaissance
Jean Stuart, a Scottish prince in the service of the kings of France
Jean Stuart, born in 1484, was the son of the King of Scotland’s twin brother, who had been exiled to France. He lived at the court of Charles VIII, Louis XII and then François I. Close to the kings of France, he had an extraordinary life.
In 1505, on the request of King Louis XII, he wedded Anne de la Tour d’Auvergne. This union made him the Count of Auvergne. Anne was 8 years old, Jean was 21.
An uncle by marriage to Catherine de Médicis, he became her guardian on the death of the future queen’s parents, Laurent II de Médicis and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne.
Eventually, on the request of the Scottish Parliament and the encouragement of François I, he became Regent of Scotland between 1515 and 1524 during the minority of the future James V. At the age of 35, Jean Stuart seemed the best way to fend off the offensive intentions of Henry VIII, King of England.
From 1520 onwards, Jean Stuart and Anne de la Tour decided to completely overhaul an old Romanesque castle chapel and turn it into a sanctuary for the devotions of the royal family. The Sainte-Chapelle also became a funeral chapel when the count and countess died. This was authorised by Pope Leo X.
Only the current choir of the church is from the 16th-century Sainte-Chapelle. The nave is an extension dating from 1842.
- Portrait of Jean Stuart by Jean Clouet, Musée de Chantilly
Sainte Chapelle means holy chapel. What is a holy chapel?
In 1248, Saint Louis had a chapel built in his City Palace in Paris. It was called the Sainte-Chapelle and was intended to house the Relics of the Passion of Christ donated by the Emperor of Constantinople. Conscious of the prestige this conferred upon them, the kings of France generously distributed pieces of the relics to their relatives… The princes to whom these prestigious relics were passed in turn built holy chapels in which to keep them.
There were eleven royal and princely holy chapels, seven of which have survived. These include Bourbon-l’Archambault (1314), Vincennes (1329), Riom (1382), Aigueperse (1475) and Vic-le-Comte (1520).
Each holy chapel fulfils five criteria:
- It is built in a royal or princely castle
- It was founded by Saint Louis or one of his descendants
- It was built to a uniform architectural design, with a single nave, a canted chevet, high windows, a slate roof and a characteristic spire
- Masses were celebrated there at the same times as the masses of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
- Each holy chapel houses a thorn from the Holy Crown or a fragment of the True Cross.
- Choir of the Sainte-Chapelle
Exterior view of the chevet of the Sainte-Chapelle
A dynastic sanctuary of great beauty
Enlightened benefactors, Jean Stuart and Anne de la Tour, had great artists interpret their wishes into stone and glass. In the interior of the building we can see:
- three large stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ, scenes from the Old Testament, the work of an exceptionally virtuoso master glass artist, and the Tree of Jesse, the supposed family tree of Jesus of Nazareth from Jesse, father of King David;
- twelve terracotta apostles attributed to Giovanni Francesco Rustici, an artist from Florence who trained in Verrocchio’s workshop, close to Leonardo da Vinci with whom he worked, and sculptor for Francis I;
- a tribune sculpted with plant motifs and 19 shields representing the arms of the Stuarts and of the La Tour d’Auvergne, glorifying the prestigious family line of the founders;
- the altarpiece of the three theological virtues – Faith, Hope and Charity – and the four cardinal virtues – Prudence, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude, no longer present here – personified by elegant Renaissance women. This was a religious and political message from the prince, who justified his power by exercising it with virtue.
- Altarpiece of the virtues:
- Close up of a virtue: Temperance
- Stained-glass windows:
The unbelief of Thomas
The Hebrews gather manna in the desert
The Emmaus pilgrims
Jean Stuart and his wife
Enter the Sainte-Chapelle and you will discover a dynastic sanctuary of great beauty and a testament to French art from around 1500, a period when the flamboyant Gothic style triumphed and the beginnings of Italianism were apparent; a period when the benefactor never lost sight of the celebration of his own glory.