15 May 2011

Saint-Denis' Basilica in Paris – Magnificent Gothic Cathedral Steeped in the History of France and the Monarchy


Saint Denis is a journey to the end of the line, so to speak, to the end of Strasbourg / Saint Denis line that terminates in the 18th arrondissement in northern Paris. Once there, you will find one of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals in all of France – Saint-Denis Basilica! Renowned as the burial place for many a French Monarch who ended up here..."at the end of the line" as well as its groundbreaking Gothic-style architecture; Saint-Denis basilica, France's West Minster Abbey, is one of the most fascinating cathedrals I have ever visited and should be at the top of every Parisian itinerary!

But who was Saint Denis? According to legend, Saint Denis, known as the first Bishop of Paris was beheaded by the Romans in this area of Montmartre during the 3rd century and died a martyr. After his execution, legend states he picked up his head, walked 10 miles and fell upon a plain where later, flowers bloomed and a spring bubbled to life. It is here, his final resting place, that the cathedral stands today.  Look around, you'll find many a sculpture depicting Saint Denis holding his head in this hands.

Heralding in the new “Gothic” architectural style, construction on the cathedral began in 1140 and was completed a little more than 100 years later in 1281. This “French style” of architecture became the new standard in building cathedrals and replaced its predecessor Romanesque style. Once inside, you’ll find those soaring arches and stained-glass window pageantry comprising a most spectacular view of the cavernous nave. It's truly magnificent to behold in person!

Tomb of Henry II and Catherine de Medici

However, Saint-Denis is not only about the advent of the new Gothic, it is steeped in the history of the French Monarchy. From Clovis I, who lived from AD 465 – 511, to Catherine de Medici and Henry II, to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette of Austria, they're all here and you’ll discover fascinating tombs of surreal and unbelievably life-like sculptures of many of the French Monarchy who lie in the main church as well as the crypts below. One of the most prominent and spectacular tombs in this unrivaled collection belongs to Louix XII and Anne of Brittany – you won’t believe the realism achieved in their effigies, it’s staggering! And, did you know that ALL but three of the Kings of France are buried here plus countless others? It blows the mind to fathom all of the burial sites contained within the walls of the Saint Denis Cathedral. You must see them for yourself.

Inside Saint Denis' Basilica - Tombs of Louis XII and Anne of Britanny
Close up of Louis XII
If you’re planning to visit Paris, be sure to set aside a half day to tour the magnificent Saint-Denis Basilica. From our Hotel Regina near the Louvre, the journey to the end of the line was about 45 minutes on the Metro Line 13. Check out these sites for more information: SacredDestinations.com and National Monuments/Saint-Denis.

Au Revoir!

14 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting, this. A place I can put down on my see list when I go to Paris one day.

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  2. Hi Sarah,
    You MUST visit Saint-Denis when you got to Paris...this place blew my mind...i couldn't believe all of the history here and that it spans 1,500 years!! Amazing!!!

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  3. Wow, I missed out on Saint Denis the last time around. I would love to explore the tombs! I'll have to save it for the next time I'm in Paris.

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  4. Hi Audrey,
    Thanks so much for visiting and sharing your thoughts. It was incredible and I strongly recommend you do this on your next trip to the city of light!

    Au revoir!!

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  5. Those tombs are incredible! It's all about the details I guess. I'm putting Saint Denis on my list the next time I am in Paris.

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  6. Hi there my friend Suzy!!
    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I agree that the tombs and the history of this place are extraordinary...glad to hear you're putting on your list. You wont' regret it!!

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  7. Beautiful photos and a definite for any Paris Itinerary.

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  8. Thx so much Robin for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! I was blown away by this place...very unassuming from outside but when you enter this cathedral, the entire history of the French monarchy is laid out for you to behold. Incredible and I agree, a must for EVERY Parisian itinerary.

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  9. Those sculptures are amazing! I'm cringing from the agonized expression on the last one. Wow

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  10. Hi Leslie, Agreed...there were a lot of macabre tombs inside this cathedral...makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. S-P-O-O-K-Y! Thx for stopping by and sharing your comments!

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  11. I visited this cathedral to see the tomb of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I was pleasently surprised that it houses such a varied collection of royal tombs marks.

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    1. Hi again Ele and thank you so much for stopping by here too. I was so impressed by the extraordinary amount and somewhat macabre tombs inside Saint-Denis. But what impressed me the most was Clovis I's tomb...from the 7th century. Can you imagine? Wow! Thx again my friend.

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  12. I loved Saint Denis but so few tourists know about it. Admittedly, the entrance fee is expensive but it's worth every penny. Can be combined with a trip to Auvers sur Oise to see Van Gogh's last resting place.

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    1. Hi Rosemary and thank you so much for stopping by to share your thoughts and tips. Love Van Gogh!

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!