If you are visiting Paris, block half day on your busy agenda and visit Basilique Saint Denis. This beautiful Gothic construction is a must for different reasons: historical, architectural, artistic and religious.
Why you can’t miss Basilique Saint Denis
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). Most of the kings and queens of France decided to be buried here from the 6th century onward so Saint Denis is the Kings of France’s necropolis, like Westminster in England.
The basilica stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery with the tomb of Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris who was martyred by 250 AD. This place of pilgrimage was built in the Vth century and during the following centuries a monastic community established here, feeding the pilgrims’ fervor with several legends sometimes invented by the monks themselves. In the XIIth century King Dagobert was an important benefactor of Saint Denis and in 754 Pepin the Short was crowned king here. 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.
Saint Denis also means the birth of Gothic art. In the 12th century Abbot Suger rebuilt the abbey using new architectural techniques like the cross-ribbed vault. Saint Denis’ main facade, with its impressive rose window and the statues-columns, is the very first Gothic facade with twin towers.
Notice also how impressive is the chevet (known as Abbot Suger’s chevet) around Saint Louis’ relics: the absence of walls between the chapels and the large windows create an uninterrupted wall of light.
On one of these windows (XIIth century), the only ones that survived the Revolution, we can see the Abbot represented.
Most of all Basilique de Saint Denis is a Royal Necropolis. Since the XIIIth century kings could have 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.
Basilique Saint Denis became the French kings’ preferred necropolis and each new dynasty continued this tradition in order to support its legitimacy. Dagobert was the first king to be buried here in the VIIth century and with only few exceptions all his successors were buried here. More than 70 original tombs give us a complete idea of the evolution of the funerary statuary since 12th century until 16th century. Louis XVIII was the last king to be buried here, in 1824.
Wandering around this exceptional funerary museum we can see, for example, the XIIth century tombs where kings are represented idealized, at an age of about 33 years (yes, like Christ when he died) and with opened eyes. Charles V tomb, instead, is considered the first official portrait in the history of funeral sculpture (XIVth century).
Finally, don’t miss the side facade, the one facing the park. Our favourite sculpture here below is there, try to find it!
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
<< Did you like this post? Spread the word : -)
Pin it now & read it later