Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011--Basilica St. Denis

We awakened late--we're now on a regular sleeping schedule--and decided to take a walking tour of Basilica St. Denis, which is given only infrequently.  St. Denis is outside the city of Paris in a separate suburb.  The town is working class and ethnically mixed, and when we got off the subway, there was an open air market just outside he metro stop.

In the main square is St. Denis's Hotel de Ville and the basilica, which is overwhelming.  It was built between 1137 and 1281 on the site of St. Denis memorial, believed to be the first bishop of Paris and a martyr who was beheaded by the Romans.  The legend holds that after his beheading, Denis retrieved his head and ran out to St. Denis for his burial, thus he is often depicted holding his severed head.  The Abbey Suger pioneered the construction of the building and is memorialized all over the place, but this is believed to be the first gothic church and is a parallel structure to Chartres (which we visited 30 years ago but not yet this time).  As our guide pointed out, if this cathedral were in the city central, it would rival Notre Dame as a tourist site, but being out in St. Denis, which many regard as a dicey area, it is largely neglected by visitors.

Hotel de Ville St. Denis

Hotel de Ville extension

Basilica St. Denis exterior

detail of Denis's beheading

Second Coming

detail of footing under exterior statues

The interior is spectacular with the traditional ribbed vaults and stained glass windows; however, most of the original windows were disassembled during ht Revolution to melt the lead down into cannon balls.  The glass there now was constructed in the 19th century.  The light was not too good, so many of my pictures did not turn out.

Visitors pay extra to visit the necropolis in the rear and bottom of the church, where all the kings of France and their queens have been entombed (though many of the bodies have been moved or lost).  Because of the popularity of St. Denis and Suger's influence, the royalty linked their destiny to that of St. Denis and would have a procession from St. Denis down into Paris to begin their reign and then a funeral procession back out to St. Denis for burial.

Francois I, queen, & 3 children

3 kings and queens--center is Louis XVI & Marie Antoinette

praying statue of Louis & marie Antoinette

basement crypt

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