Basilique Saint-Denis

Basilique Saint-Denis (97)

The basilica of Saint-Denis was built between 1137 and 1281, on the spot where Saint Dionysius is buried, the patron saint of Paris.

It was he who introduced Christianity into the city and died for this in Montmartre in 250 AD at the hands of the Romans in a very French way: beheading. They say that after being beheaded he walked with his head under his arm to the place in which later the basilica would be built.

Even since the times of the late Roman Empire there has been a cemetery in this place. In the 4th century a mausoleum was built on the same spot that is today occupied by the high altar. One century later, Saint Genevieve bought the surrounding land and had a church built. This church was enlarged twice during the Merovingian period. And in 630 they transferred the remains of Saint Dionysius to the church to bury them.

The church continued to experience changes. But in 1136 Abbot Suger demolished it and had a Gothic structure church built. During this period the church experienced its greatest age of splendour. It was then when Saint-Denis became the burial spot of the kings of France. The kings also came to the Basilica of Saint-Denis to pray and ask for blessings before leaving for wars or the crusades.

 Saint-Denis also suffered the consequences of the French Revolution, like many other religious buildings. The royal tombs were desecrated and the remains of the kings thrown into a huge grave dug out from outside the church, while the mausoleums that were saved currently form a collection of funerary art. It was not until 1816 that the royal tombs were rebuilt and one year later the mortal remains of the kings returned.

When the list of Historic Monuments of France was drawn up in 1840, the Basilica of Saint-Denis was the first that appeared on the list. It was in this period when the architect Eugène Violet-le-Duc took over the restoration work on the church, saving it from utter ruin. The ravages of time had been cruel to Saint-Denis, threatened with collapse at one time or another. 

Saint-Denis has enjoyed the status of cathedral since 1966, but it continues to be a basilica.

It is currently open to the public and is divided into two spaces. One of them houses the nave and the sides are used for the church and it is where the services are held. In the other space is the transept, choir, ambulatory with 12th-century stained glass windows and the crypt, where the museum is and in which you can see the tombs of the kings of France. Outstanding are the mausoleums of Louis XII, Anne of Brittany, Francois I and Henry II. You can also see that of Catalina de Médicis and of Marie Antoinette. Its collection of funerary sculptures is one of the most important in Europe.

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