The Wonders of the Basilique Saint-Denis

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The Wonders of the Basilique Saint-Denis
Even people who have been to most of the monuments in Paris have often not visited the city’s “other” cathedral, the Basilique Saint-Denis. That is strange, because it pre-dates Notre-Dame de Paris by some 25 years and, being the last resting place of nearly every French monarch, it is a repository of French history second to none. Almost all of the 42 kings and 32 queens buried here have their own marble effigy, many of them works of poignant beauty. Earliest sarcophogi in the crypt. @ CC BY 2.0 It is also a splendid and uplifting building. Whether you go in search of the spiritual, or are seeking to piece together centuries of French history, surely what you will notice first is the soaring beauty of its interior. St Denis was the first gothic cathedral in France, built under the supervision of Abbé Suger in the 12th century and his vision of a space full of light and color has been majestically realized. It should, he said, be “une dentelle de pierres et de verres,” a lacework of stone and glass and, incredibly, the builders and craftsmen of over 900 years ago achieved just that. The combined effect of the slender pillars, the delicate stonework and the huge, luminous stained-glass windows is simply stunning. The glazed triforium. @ CC BY 2.5 The site was important to French Christians long before the 12th century, because of its links to the martyr Saint Denis, whose story is one of France’s most familiar legends. Having reached the age of 100 or so, converted many to Christianity and founded a number of churches, he was challenged by enemies in the year 261. He is said to have survived beatings, being fed to lions and a crucifixion before they beheaded him. At that point, the story goes, he stood up, picked up his head and walked with it for several miles until he collapsed and died. On that exact spot was built the first church in his name and because of his fame as a martyr it was seen straightaway as a fitting place to bury royalty. Saint Denis of Paris. @ CC BY-SA 3.0
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Lead photo credit : Saint Denis Basilique. @ CC BY-SA 4.0

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Comments

  • Debra BORCHERT
    2021-04-23 03:47:30
    Debra BORCHERT
    When I visited this cathedral a few years ago, I wound my way down to the crypt and came upon the shrine of the heart of the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I stood breathless at this beautiful and simple yet moving memorial to the little boy.

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    • Marian Jones
      2021-04-26 03:51:26
      Marian Jones
      Yes, all the memorials are poignant, aren't they? But this one, I found particularly so.

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  • mcs
    2021-04-22 06:28:35
    mcs
    As for not many have visited St. Denis, birthplace of Gothic Architecture. In 1987 two of us one a professor of Architecture, the other an architecture historian from Seattle, WA made the trek and visited 213 sites within a 50 mile radius of Paris searching for other buildings designed and built by the master mason of St. Denis. Found at least one which a former student was able to fully explain.

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    • Marian Jones
      2021-04-23 09:02:18
      Marian Jones
      Fascinating! Thank you for taking the trouble to write. I'd love to know which the other building was and what it was that led to you deciding that this was the case.

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      • Miriam C Sutermeister
        2021-04-23 08:29:30
        Miriam C Sutermeister
        Marian, Must clarify our search and discussion applies to the new chapels and chevet of St. Denis consecrated in June 1144. Of the 6 sites that seemed probable, Art History Ph.D candidate Wm Folkestad challenged one or two of the sites and added one, St. Martin d'Etampes. The window characteristic in the mason's way of setting out the chevet windows was key. The larger the chapel breadth, the smaller the windows. We had hoped William might develop a major article casting a new and different light on the origin of the Gothic. All of 30 years ago his grasp of the matter exceeded our own completely inadequate comprehension of the matter. It his publication would have been a revolutionary contribution to architectural history. mcs mcs

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        • Marian Jones
          2021-04-26 03:54:33
          Marian Jones
          Thank you, Miriam, that's a bit clearer to me now. Sounds like an interesting project for someone to investigate further! Marian

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