Archive for December 8th, 2019

December 8, 2019

Basilica Saint Denis !!!

Ok so here i am again, this one i have been but many years ago even when was visiting France back in 1990!! wow! Now since living here since 2003 never had been back…until now. It is one of those places you hear about but always been on the wrong side of the road never dare pass by it. It has happened and it has been very nice indeed.

To say will tell you a bit about the Basilica of Saint Denis  will be deceiving, there is so much to tell about and so much history into that a book rather than a blog post would be needed. I am hoping to give you a glimpse and some photos that will make you as I decide to come to visit. In my humble opinion, it is one of the must sites to visit in France.

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The Basilique de Saint-Denis basilica is a Gothic church located in the center of the city of Saint-Denis, 5 km north of Paris in the department 93 of Seine-Saint-Denis in the Ile-de-France region. Originally founded as an abbey, it has the status of cathedral of the diocese of Saint-Denis since 1966. The abbey church was called “basilica” from the Merovingian period . It stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman cemetery, the burial place of St. Denis martyred around 250. The transept of the abbey church, of exceptional magnitude, was intended to accommodate the royal tombs. It is thus the necropolis of the kings of France since the Robertians and Capetians direct, even if several Merovingian then Carolingian kings had chosen to rest there before them.

In 1793, following the desecration of the tombs of the Basilica of St. Denis,during the French revolution, the revolutionaries threw the ashes of forty-two kings, thirty-two queens, sixty-three princes, ten servants of the kingdom, as well as thirty abbots and various religious, between beds of limestone, in mass graves of the old monks’ cemetery then located north of the basilica. Part of the treasure of the basilica is transformed into money. As for the recumbent, masterpieces of funerary art dating back to the early Middle Ages for older, they are largely deteriorated. That of Charles V the Wise lost his scepter, and that of his wife Jeanne de Bourbon has meanwhile disappeared!!!

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In 1805, Napoleon I fixed the new destiny of the building: symbol of the continuity of the monarchical power, it must become the memorial of the four dynasties that reigned over France. On February 20, 1805, he asked to be informed of the state of the abbey and two days later that the Ministry of the Interior proceeds to its restoration! On January 19, 1817, Louis XVIII brought back the remains of his predecessors, recovered in the pits, in the crypt of the basilica, where they are gathered ,because the limestone prevented their identification in an ossuary sealed by marble slabs on which are the names of the buried royals. Under the Second Empire, Napoleon III decided that the basilica of Saint-Denis would house his burial place, that of his wife and his successors, unlike the other princes of the imperial family to whom the crypt of the Saint-Augustin church would be affected. This new imperial vault is not the one envisaged by Napoleon I, the old chapel of Hilduin which Louis XVIII made a royal vault. In 1859, he had Eugène Viollet-le-Duc develop a new imperial vault located west of the previous one, under the high altar. This very large underground chapel was demolished in 1952.

st denis basilica louis xvi and marie antoinette closerup nov19

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The coronations at the Basilica Saint Denis were   of: Anne of Brittany, February 8, 1492, crowned and crowned Queen of France at Saint-Denis, she is the first queen crowned in this basilica and sacred; Mary of England, November 5, 1514; Claude of France, May 10, 1517; Eleanor of Austria, March 5, 1531; Catherine de Medici, June 10, 1549; Elizabeth of Austria, March 25, 1571; and Marie de Medici, May 13, 1610, last sacred queen in Saint-Denis.

The sun radiates from its rays the stones of the nave, symbolizing the passage from natural light to immaterial, “divine” light. The north side of the basilica with the Porte de Valois gate, that is to say the gate of the north arm of the transept. In the 13C, we insert in the facade of the transept a portal which, given its sculptures, dates from 1160. The facade of the basilica with its three portals and its unique tower. The north tower disappeared in 1846. The novelty for the time was the central rosette on the facade and the layout of the three carved portals. The Tympanum of the central portal with Christ surrounded by the twelve Apostles. The Tympanum of the 12C,was ransacked at the French revolution, restored in the 19C. Saint Denis and his companions, Rustique and Eleuthère, are led to the torture after having communicated the hands of Christ himself. Historians see Suger’s desire to impose a tympanum dedicated to a hagiography of Saint Denis. Despite the mutilations and restorations of the 19C, it retains most of his original sculpture of Suger’s era. The portal devoted to Saint Denis marks once again the desire of Suger to make recognize the role of this martyr as protector of royalty. To impose St. Denis as the “special patron” of the kingdom, it was said at that time, was also to proclaim the sacred character of the kings of France.

Need to give credit when credit is rightfully due. Born around 1081, of modest origin, Suger was placed at the age of ten at the abbey of Saint-Denis. It was there that he met the future Louis VI le Gros , son of Philippe I. Beginning his life as a monk, he was soon noticed by his gift to plead the good causes and his art of administrator. Often sent to Rome, it was while returning from an embassy in Italy, in 1122, that he learned of his election at the head of the abbey of Saint-Denis. Returning to Rome for the Lateran Council, he visited the principal sanctuaries of the southern regions. And was deeply marked. His future task as a builder, patron and statesman will be imbued with his Italian apprenticeship: Benevento, Salerno, Bari and above all Monte Cassino. Returning to Saint-Denis, he undertook to rebuild his church, which had become too small. The means of financing were ensured by a rigorous and all-round management of the properties of the abbey. His new church will embody his theological and artistic vision of the world, reinforced by his contacts with Hugues de Saint-Victor, a renowned Parisian master of thought who gave great importance to the mechanical arts and conceived of art as a spiritual support. To believe, one must see and be impressed by the beauty of the holy things. So we build the people and we work for peace. Hence the basic idea of the ambulatory to circulate around rich reliquaries, all immersed in an intense light, earthly expression of the divine light. It was at this time that he began to write his Life of Louis le Gros and a History of Louis VII. Suger is also a statesman. He works alongside his friend, Louis VI until the death of the latter in 1137. He returns a few years later to the court to serve Louis VII le Jeune or the Younger. Its purpose is omnipresent: to establish its church as protector of the kingship and to closely imbricate the Church and the kingdom of France. In 1145, Louis VII went on a crusade. Suger is invested with a high mission: to manage the kingdom in the absence of the sovereign. His task will last two and a half years; he will perform it magnificently: royal treasure provided, sending subsidies to the king, repairing the castles, rebellion of the great mate, peace and security assured. Shortly after the return of the king and despite the failure of the second crusade, Suger is declared “Father of the Fatherland”. On the internal level, Louis VII wants to separate from Eleanor of Aquitaine and declare war on Henry II Plantagenet. Suger dissuades him. In 1150, Abbot Suger reached the age of seventy. Sick, he went into agony in December and died in January 1151. The following year, Louis VII divorced ,losing Aquitaine at the same time , and attacked Henri II. The work of Abbot Suger is immense. In keeping with religious architecture, it was he who instilled the initial momentum, the constructive idea, the artistic principle that underpin and encompass the whole history of Gothic cathedrals in Europe and everywhere as elsewhere in the world.

The Basilica Saint-Denis is a cathedral apart from the French religious architectural heritage. This by the will of a man: Father Suger. The energy and religious ideals of this exceptional prelate, who was also a statesman, knew how to transform a Romanesque church into a Gothic monument (enlarged in the 13C). Named abbot of the rich abbey in 1122, he managed to raise sufficient funds to reinvent the religious architecture of his time by applying a simple principle: Faith by Beauty. To believe, the people must admire, so see. To see, it will circulate in an ambulatory where relics have been exposed in beautiful reliquaries. Hence the demand for space and light. The stained windows necessarily very beautiful will complete the task by bringing to the illiterates the religious teaching and the rules of moral edification. The Gothic spirit was born. The Carolingian church of the abbey is enlarged around 1135. First the facade, then the bedside. Suger exposes his project to the king, but decides not to touch the Carolingian nave. A simple sanctuary was not enough: Father Suger played his friendships with King Louis VI le Gros (the Fat), then with his son, Louis VII, to make his abbey a royal necropolis. He succeeded: Saint-Denis is rich with more than seventy marble statues which make his fame. Suger also fought to make it the official place of the coronation of the kings of France. On this point, he was taken aback by the cathedral of Reims.

A bit of a description, small apport:

The seven radiant chapels of Saint-Denis bring two novelties compared to Romanesque art: they are almost contiguous and of little depth. Suger’s goal was to enlarge the space and better penetrate the light. To this end, they have only two stained glass probably because there is no room for a third). Even though the chapels look narrower on each other, the space effect is successful. Many buildings of the first Gothic age will take over this system of chapel with two stained glass windows.

Historically, it was the abbot Suger  one of the great instigators of the basilica of Saint-Denis, who gave the definitive formulation of the Tree: a Jesse lying from which a tree comes out whose climbing branches carry the prophets (as spiritual ancestors) and kings (as carnal ancestors) of Jesus. This is why the Jesse Tree of Saint Denis Basilica is of paramount importance in the history of stained glass. This formulation will serve as a model in France and England throughout the Middle Ages.

For his abbey, Father Suger had a grandiose and personal stained glass project done by the best artists and master glassmakers in the region. In his book Liber of rebus in administratione sua gestis, he spreads himself in praiseful qualifiers to describe the role of the light that enters the sanctuary through the stained glass windows. However, in his writings, he expressly quotes only three of them: the Tree of Jesse, the Allegories of St. Paul and the Life of Moses. The allegories are taken from the epistles of St. Paul. It is interesting to note that the abbey took Paul for his spiritual father following the confusion , perhaps voluntary between Saint Denis, first bishop of Paris and real patron of the abbey, and Denys the Areopagyte, disciple direct from the Apostle Paul.

The glass roof of Saint-Denis has suffered a lot in the course of history. Many of Suger’s windows from the 12C were renovated in the 13C. The large windows are also from the 13C. Unfortunately, the entire glass roof of the 13C disappeared during the French revolution in 1794-1795. In 1799, the windows of the ambulatory took the path of the Museum of French Monuments, part was broken en route, another sold. In 1816, after the closure of the Museum, what was recovered and returned to the abbey. Clearly, the entire glass roof of the basilica was redone in the 19C, with the exception of a few elements in the windows of the ambulatory which, they come exclusively from the time of Suger. These stained glass windows are easy to locate: their brilliance is far from being as brilliant as those of the 19C juxtaposed with them.

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The 19C canopy obeys a Royal and Dionysian iconography. In the choir,the life of Saint Denis; in the triforium of the nave: the life of the popes; finally, in the high windows: the life of the kings and queens of France. There is also a large glass roof in the transept with the visit of Louis XVIII to the abbey and a double glass roof, the funeral of Louis XVIII and the dedication of the funeral chapel under Charles X These stained glass windows are of very high quality. In Saint-Denis, the wish of Suger – flood the church with light and always respected.

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Even if the stalls of the Basilica of Saint-Denis do not belong to the history of the basilica. They come from the chapel of the castle of Gaillon, Normandy and date back to the 16C. It is an order of Cardinal Georges d’Amboise, Archbishop of Rouen. Viollet-le-Duc made the decision to install them in Saint-Denis in the 19C. The scenes illustrate episodes from the Life of Jesus, the Virgin and martyrs. It is a very beautiful work of marquetry.

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Finally, and foremost we have the necropolis of kings and queens of France! Just gorgeous.

At the beginning of its history, the necropolis of Saint-Denis is nothing more than a cemetery that one chose, in his testament, to be buried alongside Saint Denis and his companions, Rustique and Eleuthère, all three renowned martyrs of the Church. According to historians, Queen Arnegonde was the only person of royal blood to choose Saint-Denis , and in a personal capacity. In fact, the Merovingian kings preferred to be buried in a place where they had some attachment to their habitual residence, a palace they appreciated or a religious establishment of which they were founder or benefactor. Thus royal tombs were found in Poitiers, Soissons, Metz or Arras, and, of course, also in Paris. Dagobert died in 639, chose Saint-Denis, but because there were ties to it as he was simply the benefactor of the abbey! With the nascent Carolingian dynasty, the choice of Saint-Denis is imposed on Charles Martel and Pépin le Bref (Pepin was anointed there in 754). Followed Charles the Bald and five members of his family. It is up to the Capetians to have the necropolis of the abbey recognized as the obligatory resting place of the kings of France. There are two explanations for this: on the one hand, to repeat the Carolingian tradition is to affirm its legitimacy; on the other hand, some of the first Capetian kings were simply lauded abbots of Saint-Denis. It will be buried there: Eudes and Hugues Capet, Robert the Pious and Henry I. Not to mention that the energy of Suger, in the 12C, made of this habit a real law. When Philippe I chose Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, in 1108, and Louis VII le Jeune, in 1180, the Cistercian abbey of Saint-Port de Barbeau that he had founded, the monks of Saint-Denis reacted with an outcry . Nevertheless, the link between the abbey and the crown was strengthened as Louis VI le Gros recognized it as a right of spoils;it was now considered the official guardian of the symbolic objects of royalty, the Regalia. The principle of the abbey as a royal necropolis was now respected. With the exception of Louis XI, Louis XVI and Louis XVII, all the French kings from Louis VII to Louis XVIII were buried in Saint-Denis. (Louis VII was buried in Barbeau, but in 1817, Louis XVIII brought his body back to Saint-Denis.) Today the necropolis has more than 70 recumbent and tombs. It is a unique place in Europe. Indeed it is for all to see!!!

Some webpages as usual by me to help you plan your must visit here are

Official Basilica of Saint Denis in English

Official tourist office of Dept 93 Seine Saint Denis on the Basilica in English

There a huge job but i hope I caught the important points to make this a must to visit while in France.The Basilique de Saint Denis is awesome!! Gorgeous and architecturally :historically an absolute must. Enjoy it

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!



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December 8, 2019

The Hôtel de Ville de Saint Denis!

Ok so coming here for the big one I stuck around to do some walks in daytime on a nice Saturday mid day. This is Saint Denis in dept 93 Seine Saint Denis north of Paris. Come here for the Basilica of course,but do walk around and you will see the real beat of life in France away from the glamour.

Let me tell you a bit on the city of Saint Denis and its Hôtel de Ville or city/town hall!

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Saint-Denis is a city bordering Paris, located on the north in the department of Seine-Saint-Denis, No 93 which it is sub-prefecture, in the region of Île-de-France. It is the most populated department, ahead of Montreuil, and the 3rd in the region of Ile-de-France after Paris and Boulogne-Billancourt in the Hauts-de-Seine (92). Saint-Denis, still known as a bastion of the French Communist Party, is to date the most populated city, and one of only two cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants, with Montreuil, to be led by a communist mayor!

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Saint-Denis borders the cities of Paris, Saint-Ouen-sur-Seine, Île-Saint-Denis, Epinay-sur-Seine, Villetaneuse, Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, Stains, La Courneuve and Aubervilliers. The city is served by the A1 highway or autoroute du nord   which connects it to Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle and Le Bourget airports and the A86, as well as by the boulevard périphérique around Paris.

At the beginning of the 20C, the city was a knot of tramway lines that connected the city to its neighbors of Épinay-sur-Seine and Enghien – Trinité, Pierrefitte, Stains, Aubervilliers, Villeneuve-la-Garenne, Saint-Ouen -sur-Seine and Paris .These lines were all removed before 1938. The city is now served by several major lines of transport including again the tramways , metro RER etc.

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Between the re-designed Porte de Paris gate and the Basilica, the Legion-d’Honneur Park adjoins the gardens and outbuildings of the Legion of Honor’s Education House, which occupies the buildings of the old abbey. Dominated by the Basilica of Saint-Denis, flanked by the garden Pierre de Montreuil, the old center has several remarkable monuments such as this imposing city/town hall, Church of Saint-Denis-de-l’Estrée, royal abbey, porch of the former convent of the Ursulines , former convent of the Carmelites (Museum of Saint-Denis), former headquarters of the newspaper L’Humanité, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, etc.

At the crossroads of rue Gabriel-Péri and the rue de la Boulangerie, the café “Au Pavillon” was already known five centuries ago to be a hunting lodge of kings of France who took a break. Henri IV had his bachelor apartment on rue de la Boulangerie where he was preparing the speeches he was going to deliver at the Basilica. Home to the biggest market of the Île-de-France on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday morning (see previous post), the most centenary market hall   reopened at the end of 2006, after renovation. It now has a rainwater recovery system, used for post-market cleaning, and solar panels for lighting. The city center has been pedestrianized since March 11, 2005. The Basilique de Saint-Denis metro station is in remote correspondence with the T1 tramway, close to a major urban hypermarket.

At the beginning of the 7C, Dagobert rebuilt the oratory and the priory built by Saint Genevieve in 475, and created a fair which became in the 12C, the fair of Landy; from the Middle Ages, merchants came from all over Europe and Byzantium; the fair was inaugurated each year by the rector of the University of Paris who came there in great ceremony The church was rebuilt by Suger, who became abbot of Saint-Denis in 1122, advisor to Louis VI, and ruled in the absence of Louis VII, gone to the Holy Land. It was he who, the first time, handed to a king of France the banner, which became famous under the name of its banner.

Louis XI rebuilt almost entirely the sanctuary, the transepts and the nave at his own expense. The ancient tombs were rebuilt in the transept and choir of the abbey church, which for centuries was an object of admiration for visitors. This monastery, so to speak national, has always been in the same veneration since Louis IX.

In 1806, Napoleon I, by a decree, consecrated the old church to the burial of the emperors, there instituted a retreat for the bishops over 60 years, and a house of education for the daughters of the legionaries.

Taken by the enemy in 1814, Saint-Denis was one of the first to declare himself in favor of the Bourbons. In 1815, the city gave the same marks of love to the son of his former benefactors. In 1817, Louis XVIII ordered that the remains of kings, removed from the tombs in 1793, be reinstated there. In 1852, Napoleon III gathered the cure of Saint-Denis in the chapter of the basilica. The church, as a whole, dates from the 12-13C, but since 1858 the sanctuary has returned to its original state. On August 27, 1944, General Leclerc’s troops entered the city for its liberation.

The city of Saint Denis more on its history in French: City of Saint Denis on its history

The tourist office for Seine Saint Denis 93 in English: Tourist office of dept 93 Seine Saint Denis

Hope you enjoy the tour,if in town for the Basilica which is a must , then why not take a walk around the Hôtel de Ville or city/town hall of Saint Denis. Enjoy it

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!


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