FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE SEINE DAINT DENIS paris - saint-denis - first gothic cathedralThe highlight of St Denis is its impressive Gothic-Renaissance Basilique St Denis [1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur, +33 148098354 ad/ch €7/Free]. This basilica is one of the most important historical places in Europe, as it houses the tombs of French royalties, all the way back to Dagobert I (r 629-639). Almost everyone who reigned until the time of Louis XVIII has been buried here with mausoleums alongside spectacular funerary sculptures.

The abbey of St Denis was founded sometime in 628; however, the cathedral itself was built only in 1136. This structure is considered to be a pioneer of the Gothic-style churches that were built around the area in the 12th century. However, its architecture is not purely Gothic, as the cathedral comprises of some Romanesque features as well. The entire interior is usually bathed in the colourful light that streams from its intricate 12th-19th century stained glass windows. This beautiful space is home to the necropolis of St Denis, which houses many tombs, with the oldest being that of Clovis I (death 511) and his son Childebert I (death 558); as well as Louis XII and Anne of Bretagne. These tombs are decorated with over 70 statues that represent the life-like appearances of these deceased royals.

Unfortunately, what you see today is a restoration of the original abbey and cathedral as the Basilique St Denis and its artefacts were partially destroyed during the French Revolution. It is said that the revolutionaries stormed into the basilica, opened the tombs and dumped the remains that they found into nearby pits that were located outside building. Only the monuments were spared, as Alexandre Lenoir managed to pass them off as artworks. These remains stayed in the pit until proper restoration took place when Napoleon Bonaparte reopened the church, in 1806. The bones that were distinguished were replaced back in their original tombs. However many remained unrecognisable- hence, they were collectively placed in an ossuary in the crypt that is fronted by two marble slates, which bear the list of the names of the monarchs. Audioguides are available during visits (€4.50).


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