On January 21, 1815, under a tent on the Rue d'Anjou, eventual site of the expiatory chapel, the coffins of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette reposed in state. After twenty-two years the former sovereigns were finally to receive Christian burial. As is told in the novel Madame Royale, the remains of the King and the Queen were carried by the Scottish company of the bodyguards, followed by rank upon rank of soldiers. Some members of the royal family were present, although the grieving Duchess of Angoulême remained closeted in her private oratory at the Tuileries. The funeral procession wound across Paris to the Basilica of Saint Denis, where the requiem Mass was offered. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette were then interred in the royal crypt; the Office of the Dead was recited. It was the same crypt which had been hideously rifled in 1793.
Between 1816 and 1826, at the expense of Louis XVIII and the Duchess of Angoulême, the Chapelle Expiatoire was built on the place where the bodies of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette had been buried after their murders. According to one traveler:
While wandering one day though the Rue d’Anjou St. Honore, I came unexpectedlyupon 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.
Although the bodies of the King and Queen were identified and reburied in Saint Denis, as has been described, the Chapelle Expiatoire marked the spot where they had lain for so long. The chapel is considered a "perfect example of the late Neoclassicism." The statues of the monarchs are particularly unique. Marie-Antoinette is shown "supported by religion" while Louis XVI is portrayed as being "called to immortality." When my husband and I visited the chapel in 1999 we went there on a Wednesday and were quite disappointed to find it was closed. However, we rested in the serene little garden which surrounds the building. The chapel is open three days a week, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 1 and 5 pm, and is certainly worth seeing.
Please see Madame Delors' post as well. Fascinating!