Saint Denis Basilica

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West façade of Saint Denis

The Basilica of Saint Denis (French: Basilique de Saint-Denis, or simply Basilique Saint-Denis) is the famous burial site of the French monarchs, comparable to Westminster Abbey in England. Almost all the kings of France were buried in the Basilica, but unlike Westminster Abbey it was not used for coronations (a role designated to the Cathedral of Reims). The basilica is located in Saint-Denis, now a northern suburb of Paris.

Saint Denis is a patron saint of France and, according to legend, was the first bishop of Paris. A shrine was erected at his burial place. There Dagobert I, king of the Franks, who reigned from 628 to 637, founded the Abbey of Saint Denis, a Benedictine monastery. The shrine itself was created by Eligius, a goldsmith by training. It was described in the early vita of Saint Eligius:

Above all, Eligius fabricated a mausoleum for the holy martyr Denis in the city of Paris with a wonderful marble ciborium over it marvelously decorated with gold and gems. He composed a crest [at the top of a tomb] and a magnificent frontal and surrounded the throne of the altar with golden axes in a circle. He placed golden apples there, round and jeweled. He made a pulpit and a gate of silver and a roof for the throne of the altar on silver axes. He made a covering in the place before the tomb and fabricated an outside altar at the feet of the holy martyr. So much industry did he lavish there, at the king's request, and poured out so much that scarcely a single ornament was left in Gaul and it is the greatest wonder of all to this very day. <ref>Vita S. Eligius, edited by Levison, on-line at Medieval Sourcebook</ref>

None of this work survives.


[edit] Architecture

The northwest nave of Saint Denis at sunset

The church is an architectural landmark, part of which is considered to be the first major structure built in the Gothic style. The Saint Denis Gothic structure that we know and see today was begun in 1136 by the Abbot Suger (1081-1155), but the major construction was not completed until the end of the 13th century.<ref> It has been argued (most recently by architectural historian Dan Cruickshank in "Britain's Best Buildings" for the BBC) that Durham Cathedral, as well as being a superb example of Romanesque architecture, also contains the first evidence of Gothic design. The nave at Durham contains pointed traverses and pointed arches while flying buttresses are concealed over the aisles - the main elements of Gothic, 20 years before this style was seen elsewhere in Europe.</ref>

[edit] Burial site

The abbey is where the kings of France and their families were buried for centuries and is therefore often referred to as the "royal necropolis of France". All but three of the monarchs of France from the 10th century until 1789 have their remains here. The abbey church contains some fine examples of cadaver tombs. The effigies of many of the kings and queens are on their tombs, but during the French Revolution, these tombs were opened by workers under orders from revolutionary officials. The bodies were removed and dumped in two large pits nearby. Archaeologist Alexandre Lenoir saved many of the monuments from the same revolutionary officials by claiming them as artworks for his Museum of French Monuments.

The bodies of the beheaded King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, Madame Elisabeth (the King's sister) were not buried in Saint Denis. They were buried in the churchyard of the Madeleine and covered with quicklime. The body of the Dauphin, who died of an illness, was buried in an unmarked grave in a Parisian churchyard near the Temple.

Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church in 1806, but the royal remains were left in their mass-graves. Following Napoleon's first exile to Elba, the Bourbons briefly returned to power. They ordered a search for the corpses of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the few remains, a few bones that were presumably the king's and a clump of greyish matter containing a lady's garter, were found on January 21 1815, brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt. In 1817 the mass-graves containing all the other remains were opened but it was impossible to distinguish any one from the collection of bones. As such, the remains were placed in an ossuary in St. Denis' crypt, behind two marble plates with the names of the hundreds of members of the succeeding French Dynasties that were interred in the church duly recorded.

King Louis XVIII, on his death in 1824, was buried in the center of the crypt, near the graves of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The coffins of members of the royal Family that died in between 1815 and 1830 were also placed in the vaults. Under the direction of architect Viollet-le-Duc, famous for his work on Notre-Dame de Paris, the monuments that were taken to the Museum of French Monuments were returned to the church. The corpse of King Louis VII, who had been buried at the Abbey at Saint-Pont and whose tomb had not been touched by the revolutionaries, was brought to St. Denis and buried in the crypt. In 2003 the mummified heart of the Dauphin, the boy that should have been Louis XVII, was sealed into the wall of the crypt.

[edit] Tombs

Except for three members of the royal families of France ruling the country since 496 all are buried in the Saint Denis Basilica. The most prominent are:

[edit] Notes


[edit] See also

[edit] External links

de:Basilika Saint-Denis es:Basílica de Saint-Denis eo:Baziliko de Saint-Denis fr:Cathédrale Saint-Denis it:Basilica di Saint-Denis nl:Saint-Denis-basiliek pl:Bazylika Saint-Denis simple:Saint Denis Basilica sv:Klosterkyrkan Saint-Denis

Saint Denis Basilica

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