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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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.

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.

    REPLY

    • 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.

      REPLY