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19 May 2017 / leggypeggy

Saint-Denis full of French royalty

View to organ, Saint-Denis

View of the nave and to the pipe organ (see scaffolding on left)

The Basilica (Cathedral) of Saint-Denis in Paris has a wonderfully creepy story of how it came to be where it is. In the 3rd century, Saint Denis, a patron saint of France and the first bishop of Paris, and two of his followers were beheaded on the hill at Montmartre. The legend goes that Saint Denis, carrying his own head, then walked to the site of the current church and indicated that’s where he wanted to be buried.

A special church (a martyrium) was built on the site of his grave and became a popular pilgrimage destination in the 5th and 6th centuries.


Towards the altar (also called choir)

Now I won’t go into all the building, rebuilding, renovations and expansions that have taken place over the centuries, but I will say that the basilica (and its accompanying abbey) became a popular burial place for the royalty of France. In fact, it’s often referred to as the ‘royal necropolis of France’.

In fact, all but three of the French monarchs from the 10th century to 1789 have their remains at Saint Denis. But after the French Revolution, the ancient monarchs were removed from the church. Their bodies were dumped into mass graves and covered with lime to destroy them.

Tree of Jesse, Saint-Denis

The north transept rose features the Tree of Jesse

In 1817, the ruling Bourbons ordered that the mass graves be opened and the royal remains be returned to Saint-Denis. By then, only a few parts of three bodies remained intact. The remaining bones from 158 bodies were collected into an ossuary in the crypt of Saint Denis. Today a marble plates bears their names.

Poor John and I spent more than an hour wandering around the church, admiring the sculptures and stained glass windows. A commenter below (Buying Seafood) reminded me that this church is considered to be the birthplace of gothic architecture, initiated by the Abbot Suger.

Some renovations are being carried out in the nave at the moment, so there wasn’t a completely clear view of everything.

After ‘doing’ the main part of the cathedral, which is open to the public at no charge, we even paid the 9 euros (each) admission to access the inner parts of the cathedral and the crypts below.

There are some amazing statues throughout the cathedral. A touching one is of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette praying. Another is the tomb of Charles V and wife, Jeanne de Bourbon. Still another tomb (for Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne) was capturing the reflection from stained glass windows. I got a couple of pics of it, and within minutes the sun had moved on and the colour was gone.

Teacher at Saint-Denis

Students listen to stories about Saint-Denis and the cathedral

We got a kick out of the teacher/guide with a group of school children. We could only watch him from the back, but he was full of animation and the kids were spellbound. One was even videoing his ‘performance’.

By the way, keep your wits about you if you decide to visit the cathedral. Libby and Daniel warned us that Saint Denis is in a rough neighbourhood—not as rough as it used to be, but still requiring caution.

I carried my camera in a small backpack, rather than in the normal camera case. And I didn’t bring the camera out when we wandered through the market that is almost directly opposite Saint Denis. That said, we never felt threatened or unsafe.

Crypt, Saint-Denis

Final resting places including remains of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette


Leave a Comment
  1. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder / May 19 2017 7:20 am

    The story is a fascinating one. Wonderful pictures… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. beetleypete / May 19 2017 7:51 am

    Nice shots, Peggy.
    I would have paid money to watch St Denis carrying his own head!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Miriam / May 19 2017 8:41 am

    Fascinating history, gruesome definitely but oh so very impressive architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. gerard oosterman / May 19 2017 8:50 am

    Yes, Peggy. There is nothing like a good story about the dearly departed, and it must be so nice to end up in a Parisian Basilica.
    For bones to end up all mixed with others in an ossuary is less glorious. Even so, beggars can’t be choosers.
    Are you two going to see the French Follies Berger or the Can Can at all?

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 19 2017 4:08 pm

      Song and dance isn’t Poor John’s thing, but we’ve both seen the performances in the past.


  5. Vicki / May 19 2017 1:21 pm

    What a massive Cathedral. Having people in the image makes the majesty of the place even more awe-inspiring.

    (Ahhh… be a teacher who can keep young students spellbound) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 19 2017 4:07 pm

      Watching the teacher was a highlight of the visit. The kids were so enthralled. And yes, people in the pic give some indication of size. This place is huge.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. pvcann / May 19 2017 2:40 pm

    there is a beauty in architecture quite apart from nature that is sublime, and these photos are no exception, loved the travelogue too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. derrickjknight / May 19 2017 6:32 pm

    Well done, Peggy. Not easy to photograph

    Liked by 1 person

  8. buyingseafood / May 19 2017 9:26 pm

    This church is considered the birthplace of gothic architecture, initiated by the Abbot Suger, predates the amazing work over at Chartes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 1:40 am

      Thanks for that reminder. I should have mentioned it in the main text. I’ll go back and try to weave it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. spearfruit / May 19 2017 10:24 pm

    Fascinating history and the photos are exceptional Peggy. I truly enjoy your posts, I learn something new by reading them. Happy day my friend. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jean-Baptiste / May 20 2017 2:04 am

    As a child I was fascinated by the picture of Louis XII Anne de Bretagne inside the St Denis Basilica. On this page you can find the picture inside the mausoleum

    I still find it beautiful and scary today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 20 2017 5:21 am

      Oh wow, thank you so very much for sharing your memory and the link.


  11. toutparmoi / May 20 2017 9:00 pm

    Ah. My patron saint. (My name’s Denise.) I will take his ability to keep hold of his head very seriously. My own head does tend to fly off in odd directions at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / May 21 2017 1:46 am

      Oh my, you gave me a good laugh. Hang on to your head. 🙂


  12. Neethu / May 23 2017 9:51 pm


    Liked by 1 person


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