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Beauty and Thorns

Beauty and Thorns

I have seen beautiful stained glass windows many times, but nothing prepared me for this.

The walls of this chapel were more glass than stone, with tall, narrow panels rising high from floor to ceiling, depicting Bible stories in a riot of brilliant images. This sanctuary has been described as “a miracle of light” and a “weightless dream of pure color.” One person said it was “like standing in a crystal.”

The chapel is called Sainte-Chapelle, and you can find it in the heart of Paris, France, just a short walk from the far more famous Cathedral of Notre Dame. The lower chapel of Sainte-Chapelle once served people in the palace, but the upper chapel is where you find the wall of light and color—a stained glass sensation.

Sainte-Chapelle was built in the 13th Century by Louis IX—the French king for whom the city of Saint Louis was named. But the chapel, like most churches, came under siege during the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Revolutionaries tried to obliterate religion, destroying statues, abolishing the Sabbath, and replacing the seven-day week (which comes from Genesis) with a 10-day week.

Churches were turned into “temples of reason,” but very quickly the French Revolution spun out of control and reason was difficult to find as guillotines were erected and scores of people were executed.

During this period, Sainte-Chapelle was turned into an administrative office, which ironically may have saved its stunning stained glass windows from destruction. Enormous filing cabinets were placed in front of the stained glass, inadvertently protecting them from vandals, who pulled down the spire and wreaked havoc throughout the rest of the chapel.

Today, the people who flock to Sainte-Chapelle come to see the stained glass, but this sanctuary was equally famous for the relics that Louis IX housed in it. In fact, the reason the chapel was even built was to make a home for these relics.

Before the French Revolution, Sainte-Chapelle supposedly housed a piece of the cross of Jesus, but perhaps the most famous relic of all was the crown of thorns that Jesus wore during the scourging and crucifixion. The crown of thorns (or at least what some believe to be the actual crown) now resides at the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Housing the crown of thorns in the midst of such beauty and light may seem incongruous. They don’t go together. But that’s the thing about the crucifixion. In this act of supreme and singular sacrifice, there was much ugliness—suffering and pain. But there was also great beauty and light. After all, without the death of Jesus on the cross, there would be no resurrection, when Christ destroyed the curse of death.

The thorns in the crown harken back to the Book of Genesis, when God cursed the ground because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

“Cursed is the ground because of you,” God told Adam. “Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”

Thorns and thistles are symbols of sin, suffering, and pain. So it makes complete sense that Jesus would wear a crown made out of thorns. The first Adam sinned and brought suffering and thorns into the world. But Jesus, whom the Bible calls “the last Adam,” overcame the thorns by wearing a crown of pain and defeating death.

King Louis IX, like most kings, wore a crown of gold. I assume it was a beautiful crown, but what benefit did it bring to the world? The crown that Jesus wore was ugly and severe, but it brought beauty into the world. It brought light and life, and that’s why the story of Jesus is so powerful. That’s why the story cannot be muffled, no matter how hard some revolutionaries have tried, from Robespierre, the man associated with France’s Reign of Terror, to Joseph Stalin, the Soviet madman who tried to banish God from his country.

That’s also why it is only fitting that the crown of thorns (assuming it really was the true crown) would wind up in Sainte-Chapelle, surrounded by light.

We too have thorns in our life, and they’ve been afflicting people since the day Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden. Even Paul the Apostle talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” But through Christ, we can turn thorns into crowns and darkness into light.

And if you don’t believe me, take a stroll through Sainte-Chapelle.

History by the Slice Family Activity

Google Sainte-Chapelle and look at more images of the stained glass windows. Then read 1 Corinthians 15:20-26 and 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 and discuss these questions:

  1. How do these passages compare Adam and Christ?
  2. Why is Jesus called “the last Adam”?
  3. What does it mean when it says “we have borne the image of the earthly man”?
  4. What does it mean when it also says “so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man”?
  5. If thorns represent the struggles of life, what are some of the thorns in your life? What can you do about them?
  6. What can God do to help you?
  7. Both Adam and Jesus had great trials in gardens—the Garden of Eden and the Garden of Gethsemane. How were these trials similar? How were they different?

By: Doug Peterson has written 42 books for VeggieTales and is the author of four historical novels: The Disappearing Man, The Puzzle People, The Vanishing Woman, and The Lincoln League. Visit Doug at www.bydougpeterson.com.

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