Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis!!!

Oh so this is a dandy to tell you more about it, and put in new pictures not in my blog before! I have a historical post on it but this post will have more historical facts as well. Let me tell you about the Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis!!!

To say will tell you a bit about the Basilica Cathedral 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 new pictures that will make you decide to come to visit. In my humble opinion, it is one of the must sites to visit in France. A bit more on its history and construction I like!

st denis basilica front nov19

At its origins, the former royal abbey of Saint-Denis is associated with the history of the Franks. The abbey church has been called a “basilica” since the Merovingian period . The transept of the abbey church, of an exceptional size, was intended to accommodate the royal tombs. The Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis, true cradle of French history, houses the burials of all the Kings and Queens of France. Clovis I, Dagobert, Charles Martel, Catherine de Medici, Henri IV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette … 42 kings, 32 queens, 63 princes !!

st denis basilica back left side nov19

The main church of the diocese, where a bishop officiates most of the time, is called a Cathedral. The title of Basilica is attributed by the Pope to a church when it rests on the tomb of a Saint, because it contains relics there, or because it is a pilgrimage site. Therefore, when all of these conditions are met, a cathedral can be crowned with the title of basilica, and vice versa. Thus in 1966, the Basilica of Saint-Denis was elevated to the rank of Cathedral. There is of course King Dagobert, who in 639 became the first king to be buried in the basilica. The tomb of François I, his wife Claude of France, and three of their children. But also that of Catherine de Medici, who erected a huge rotunda 30 meters in diameter, intended to accommodate the burials of her family. The Saint-Denis Basilica-Cathedral thus constitutes the most important collection of funerary sculptures in Europe with more than 70 recumbent figures and monumental tombs.

st denis basilica francois I nov19

st denis basilica henri II et catherine de medici close nov19

Its facade and apse, at both ends of the monument, are the beginnings of Gothic architecture. Gothic architecture is at its peak: bright, open, dressed in stained glass letting a penetrating light shine through. Hence its nickname lucerna or the lantern, which will follow it until the 18C. The splendor of the monument is such that its roses , fascinating by their size and their designs were notably used as models for Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.Gothic art gradually replaced Romanesque art during the second half of the 12C in the towns of Ile-de-France. Gothic develops a series of technical innovations such as the ribbed vault, which directs the thrust of the vault on pillars, and no longer on walls, flying buttresses which serve as external support for the pillars, the high pointed arch windows: between the pillars, and the walls no longer support the vault and are pierced with windows in the shape of a pointed arch, clad in stained glass.

st denis basilica altar closeup nov19

The transformation of the crypt of Saint-Denis into a royal necropolis began under the Merovingians with Dagobert I, and took on its full extent under the Capetian dynasty of 987-1328. In the 12C, the practice of burial in Saint-Denis continued, but it was then reserved for the kings of France. During a reorganization of the necropolis ordered by Saint Louis, the remains of 16 rulers are found and moved. Their mortal remains are placed in stone coffins, protected by recumbent figures. The recumbent statues are funerary sculptures, inspired by religious statuary found at the entrance to churches, and whose function is to recall the deceased to the memory of the living. To do this, symbolic objects, animals and plants are used, and historical scenes involving the deceased are sometimes depicted on the sides of the pedestal. The 16 recumbent statues of the order of Saint Louis are idealized: they wear a crown and scepter, have their eyes open and are dressed in the fashion of the 13C.

st denis basilica funeral tomb nov19

The mausoleum, also called the Valois rotunda because of its shape, was built on order of the queen mother Catherine de Medici to house the tombs of the Valois. An unfinished building, with only two floors when the initial project had three, it was destroyed in 1719 because it threatened to collapse. Only the monumental tomb to the glory of Henri II and Catherine de Medici has been preserved and reassembled in the north arm of the transept of the abbey.  In 1665, at the beginning of his glory, the young Louis XIV nourished the project of offering the kings and queens of the Bourbon dynasty a tomb worthy of their prestige. Colbert and the architect François Mansart were in charge of the project. But the death of the architect, after only a year, put an end to the project. Although the Bourbons rotunda was never built, its preparatory plans and sketches will inspire Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the son of François Mansart, during the realization of the dome of the Invalides.

st denis basilica tombs from upper floor nov19

The Committee of Public Safety, organ of the revolutionary government created under the Constituent Assembly to fight against the enemies of the nascent French Republic, decides to commemorate the first anniversary of the fall of the monarchy by destroying the mausoleums of the kings of France. The Abbey of Saint-Denis and its royal necropolis are no exception to this program. Funeral monuments are either destroyed or sold. The metal recovered from the graves is melted and transformed into cannons and balls, necessary to continue the war against the enemies of the Republic. In the same way, part of the stained-glass windows is dismantled in order to recover the lead contained in the windows. They were replaced in the 19C during the two restoration campaigns undertaken by the architects Debret and Viollet-le-Duc. It was not until 1805, once crowned Emperor, that Napoleon I ordered the restoration of the basilica, that he modernized part of the buildings of the abbey by making it the Education House of the Legion of honor (see post) in 1809.

st denis basilica entrance nave nov19

On June 13, 1940, the Nazis army entered the city of Saint-Denis. Among the Nazi military targets, there was also destruction of civilian buildings: the basilica was hit. Many stained-glass windows dating from the 12C were destroyed, the large Gothic windows being particularly fragile. There are only five 12C glass roofs left in Saint-Denis today.

The official Basilica Cathedral Saint Denis:

The official Seine Saint Denis dept 93 tourist office on the Basilica

I have gone to the Basilica Cathedral Saint Denis by car but if visiting you can come in public transport by the metro line 13  Station Basilique de Saint-Denis only 200 meters, and only 15 minutes on foot to the Stade de France.

There you go folks, a huge job but i hope I caught some important points to make this a must to visit while in France. The Basilique Cathédrale 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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4 Comments to “Basilica Cathedral of Saint Denis!!!”

  1. Splendid. I especially like the rose window.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I made that visit a long time ago, following a guide explaining all the kings and princes, even with a good knowledge of French history, it’s quite heavy to follow…

    Liked by 1 person

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