Our favourite church: Basilique Saint Denis

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. 

basilique saint denis

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.

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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.

basilique saint denis

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.

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On one of these windows (XIIth century), the only ones that survived the Revolution, we can see the Abbot represented.

basilique saint denis

Royal Necropolis

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.

basilique saint denis

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).

basilique saint denis

Finally, don’t miss the side facade, the one facing the park. Our favourite sculpture here below is there, try to find it!

basilique 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

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42 thoughts on “Our favourite church: Basilique Saint Denis”

  1. 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.

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

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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

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

  5. 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.

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

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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 😛

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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