World In Paris
Paris Side Trips

Basilique de Saint Denis – our favorite church in Paris

If you are visiting Paris, block half day on your busy agenda and visit Basilique Saint Denis. The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Denis, previously Saint-Denis Abbey, is a large medieval church in the city of Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris. This beautiful Gothic construction is a must for different reasons: historical, architectural, artistic and religious.

Basilique de Saint Denis

X

BASILIQUE DE SAINT DENIS: A ROYAL NECROPOLIS

Saint Denis is very important in the History of France. It is one of the three most important royal places in the country together with Paris (the capital) and Reims (the sacred city). From the VIIth century onward most of the kings and queens of France chose to be buried here. Basilique de Saint Denis is the Royal Necropolis in France like Westminster Abbey is the Royal Necropolis in England.

The basilica stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery with the tomb of Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris martyred around 250 AD. In the Vth century a first chapel was built next to the cemetery. During the following centuries this place became a pilgrimage site and a monastic community founded an abbey here. The monks fed the pilgrims’ fervor with several legends, sometimes invented by the themselves, and the site became very popular. Many important people, especially women, chose Basilique de Saint Denis as its final resting place, close to the saint.

King Dagobert was an important benefactor of Saint Denis Abbey. Dagobert died in 639 and he was the first King to be buried in Saint Denis. Some  of his successors decided to do the same and 754 Pepin the Short was crowned king in Saint Denis. Due to this royal link Saint Denis became one of the most powerful Benedictine Abbeys in the Middle Ages and its monks became the official historians of the French Monarchy, writing the « Grandes Chroniques de France » since the 13th century.

BASILIQUE DE SAINT DENIS: THE BIRTH OF GOTHIC ART

Saint Denis also means the birth of Gothic art. In the 12th century Abbot Suger rebuilt the abbey using new and innovative architectural techniques. When visiting the Basilica don’t miss the following elements:

SAINT DENIS’ MAIN FACADE (XIIth century): with its three doors, an impressive rose window and the statues-columns. This is the very first Gothic facade.

Basilique de Saint Denis

THE APSE (LOWER PART): built around Saint Louis’ relics. The increasing number of pilgrims started to be a serious problem for the small Carolingian crypt hosting the relics. In this new apse they used a forest of monolithic columns, supporting one of the first ribbed vaults to be successfully built. This space was like a huge reliquary flooded with colored light housing the relics of the saint. The lack of walls between the chapels and the doubling of the glass surface in each prayer space created an exceptional wall of continuous light.

Basilique de Saint Denis

Basilique de Saint Denis

X

THE BIGGEST MUSEUM OF FUNERARY STATUARY IN THE WORLD

Most of all, Basilique de Saint Denis is a Royal Necropolis. Since the XIIIth century kings had 3 tombs, usually located in three different churches : body tomb, heart tomb and entrails tomb. Saint Denis was the Royal Necropolis for body tombs while entrails were buried in Reims Cathedral and hearts in a church with sentimental links with the kings.
Since King Dagobert, Basilique de Saint Denis became the French kings’ preferred necropolis and each new dynasty continued this tradition in order to support its legitimacy. Louis XVIII was the last king to be buried here, in 1824.

Basilique de Saint Denis

More than 70 original tombs give us a complete idea of the evolution of the funerary statuary since 12th century until 16th century. If you don’t have the time (or patience) to see them all, check our musts:

KING DAGOBERT’S TOMB: He was the first to be buried here. In the XIIIth century the abbey’s monks built him a bigger tomb on three levels, more in accordance with the greatness of the king. Dagobert looks towards Saint Denis’ former grave and he is surrounded by his wife and his son Clovis II.

ISABELLE OF ARAGON (1243 † 1271): one of the most beautiful tombs in Saint Denis. This tomb is especially beautiful at certain hours of the day, when the multicolored rays of the stained glass get lost in the folds of the clothing that come alive.

CHARLES V (1338 † 1380) ET JEANNE DE BOURBON: Charles V tomb is considered the first official portrait in the history of funeral sculpture and a masterwork of medieval art. His wife’s tomb was destroyed during the Revolution. What we can see today is her entrails’ tomb, brought from the Convent of Celestins in Paris after the Revolution. This is the only entrails’ tomb in the Basilica and you can easily recognize it by the little bag that she is holding in her left hand.

FRANCOIS I AND CLAUDE DE FRANCE: a tomb on two levels, typical of the Renaissance style. Inside the tomb, the royal couple is represented in real size with a striking realism. On the upper platform, the kneeling sovereigns are accompanied by three of their children. These prayers express hope in the Resurrection but also the family character of the mausoleum.

X

BEFORE LEAVING . . .

Before leaving Basilique de Saint Denis don’t miss the side facade, the one facing the park. Our favorite sculpture (on the picture below) there, try to find it!

Basilique de Saint Denis

Seine-Saint Denis Department. 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Saint-Denis, M. Basilique Saint Denis L13. Tickets: full price 8,5€; free entrance the first Sunday of the month from 1st November till 31st March

 Join our Travelers Community

<< Did you like this post? Spread the word : -)

Pin it now & read it later 

Basilique de Saint Denis

You Might Also Like...

43 Comments

  • Reply
    Paul
    05/30/2016 at 11:43 am

    That’s a beautiful church and has lovely features. We love to visit impressive churches around Europe and this one looks like one of the best.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      05/30/2016 at 11:53 am

      Paul, it is! Gothic architecture started with this church 🙂

  • Reply
    Kirstie
    05/30/2016 at 12:44 pm

    I totally forgot about visiting this basilica when I was in Paris in 2009! It was beautiful!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      05/30/2016 at 12:55 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Kirstie : -)

  • Reply
    Carolina Esguerra
    05/30/2016 at 1:57 pm

    I didn’t know bout this Westminster of France and with even greater history. A must-see when I next visit Paris!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:24 am

      Cool that you are thinking about a next visit to Paris : -) Thanks for your comment

  • Reply
    Ashley Hubbard
    05/30/2016 at 7:08 pm

    Although I’m not religious, I do thoroughly enjoy visiting churches. There is such beautiful architecture and detail involved one can’t help but be mesmerized.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:24 am

      Agree with you, Ashley!

  • Reply
    Kerri
    05/30/2016 at 11:12 pm

    Loved this church and we were in it recently on our most recent trip to Paris. The gothic architecture is something I became particularly fond of on this trip. There was so much of it in Belgium as well.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:25 am

      Gothic architecture is beautiful! Glad that you enjoyed it when in Paris, Kerri : -)

  • Reply
    Claire
    05/31/2016 at 1:12 pm

    How lovely and colourful! I love stained glass windows. I had no idea that this was in Paris!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:26 am

      Oh, and there is much more! If you love stained glass windows, la Sainte Chapelle is your place to go ; -)

  • Reply
    Castaway with Crystal
    05/31/2016 at 2:15 pm

    Great history in there! Very interesting 🙂 Thank you for the post.

    Crystal recently posted… Budget Guide: Cuba

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:26 am

      Thanks to you for visiting the blog : -)

  • Reply
    Alex
    06/01/2016 at 12:24 am

    Great post; absolutely love historic churches…

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:25 am

      Thanks Alex ! : -)

  • Reply
    Marge Gavan
    06/02/2016 at 7:18 pm

    I have a thing for churches, in fact, they are one of the places I look for when I go to a certain place, not because I’m religious but because I am fascinated by their structure. And I think Saint Denis is one gorgeous church. Those stained glass art for one is amazing.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/06/2016 at 10:22 am

      Thanks for your comment Marge! Yes, Saint Denis is gorgeous and there are many more curches in Paris which are worth the visit ; -)

  • Reply
    Tracy
    06/22/2016 at 2:49 am

    That’s really a beautiful church. The detail and the color…just fascinating!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      06/26/2016 at 9:27 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Tracy! 🙂

  • Reply
    Eric || The Bucket List Project
    11/05/2016 at 9:02 pm

    After spending my summer walking the Camino de Santiago, I thought I would never want to spend that much time touring churches. But St. Denis’ is beautiful and the Necropolis museum looks intriguing!
    I had been to Paris before but for some reason I hadn’t heard of it…for shame. Next visit it will be on my list!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:44 pm

      Good choice, Eric!

  • Reply
    Ashleigh Cattermole-Crump
    11/05/2016 at 11:14 pm

    What a beautiful building! Not much for churches but I love the ornate detailing and gothic feel they offer. Plus they’re always pretty impressive structures

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:44 pm

      Thanks Ashleigh for the comment

  • Reply
    Brianna
    11/06/2016 at 3:25 pm

    That is such a gorgeous church. The stained glass is so detailed, it’s just amazing. I also didn’t know about how the kings could be buried in three different places- a little gross if you ask me 😛

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:43 pm

      Different parts for different churches 😉

  • Reply
    Emily
    11/06/2016 at 4:44 pm

    This church is stunning. I love looking around them and imagining how long they must have taken to build and how many generations of people have enjoyed them. I’ve been to Paris several times but I don’t remember ever visiting this church so I will definitely go the next time I visit Paris.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:43 pm

      If there is a next time, you should not miss this church!

  • Reply
    Danik The Explorer
    11/06/2016 at 7:32 pm

    I love this church, one of my favourites in the city. Great write up and photos

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:42 pm

      Thanks Danik!

  • Reply
    Natasha Welch
    11/06/2016 at 9:30 pm

    Oooh I didn’t visit here when I was in Paris! I’m back in a month or so though so will put it on the list 🙂

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:42 pm

      Cool! Enjoy Paris!

  • Reply
    Juliette @ Snorkels to Snow
    11/06/2016 at 10:52 pm

    Gorgeous! I LOVE Gothic architecture. I missed this basilica on my last visit to Paris though. The interior looks stunning and of course it is so fascinating learning about the history of the church & its saint.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:42 pm

      Hope there will be a second chance for you to visit!

  • Reply
    Jimmy and Tina
    11/07/2016 at 10:55 am

    Gorgeous photos! I love the stain glass windows and looking at the sarcophagus! Reminds me of photos I took inside the Minster and so fascinating how heavy the stone is and how they could have possibly carried on the burial.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:41 pm

      I am also a stain glass windows lover 🙂

  • Reply
    Lala
    11/07/2016 at 12:53 pm

    It looks beautiful! I love the coloured windows and the detail. Amazing!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:41 pm

      Yes, that’s why it is my favourite church in Paris

  • Reply
    JEM
    11/07/2016 at 9:14 pm

    Interesting piece of history for being the birth of Gothic. Europe is so full of these imposing Gothic buildings.

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/08/2016 at 1:40 pm

      Yeah, and some are really beautiful. Thanks for your comment Jem

  • Reply
    Erica M Poyaua
    11/10/2016 at 12:07 pm

    I wonder how it feels to go to these sacred places… I really wish to be in Europe!!!

    • Reply
      WorldInParis
      11/12/2016 at 1:46 pm

      Some are really beautiful. Thanks for your comment, Erica 🙂

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    02/07/2017 at 2:40 am

    These pictures only have shown that why Basilique Saint Denis is among the three most royal places of France. One should definitely not miss this beautiful architecture. Thank you sharing this with us!

  • Leave a Reply